Hereford Times Column: The EU and the Agricultural Economy

Truly a week is a long time in politics, as they say.  But amid all the political hoo-ha, it is easy to forget that last week’s Budget had several announcements from which Herefordians can take cheer.

These include a further increase in the tax-free personal allowance to £11,500, a rise in small business rate relief and the continued freeze in fuel, beer and cider duties.

Beer and cider duties matter because Herefordshire is the largest hops producer and the foremost cider county in Britain, and this week I want to continue my EU referendum series by asking how Brexit would affect farmers and the rural economy.

At first glance, the answer may seem obvious.  The Common Agricultural Policy remains a nightmare of bureaucracy and paperwork for many farmers, while the related Common Fisheries Policy has done little to arrest declining fish stocks.  Surely it would be much better to be free of them?

But, as the National Farmers Union notes, it is actually impossible to make a firm judgement on these issues without knowing what relationship the UK would have with the EU, or the domestic conditions under which our farmers would have to operate, if we left.

Would our farm products be subject to an EU imports tariff?  Would the present farm subsidies continue to apply, only paid by the UK Government?

The broad facts are these.  The EU is the world’s largest agricultural trader.  Its agri-food exports totalled €122 billion in 2014, and it has a positive trade balance with the world of €18 billion.  The UK imports nearly twice as many agri-food products from other EU countries as it exports.

It’s been argued that this is a position of strength:  that “they need us more than we need them”, and so that other EU countries would have no interest to impose a tariff on us.

But in fact the position not quite clear.  Nations, like people, sometimes do irrational things when they’re angry.  And the rest of the EU might want to try to deter other countries from leaving by being tough with us.

We need to know what provision Government would make to replace farm subsidies and public investment in rural areas in the event of Brexit.

On the wider issues involved, I have created a special EU Referendum page on my website, www.jesse4hereford.com.  It is full of relevant articles and reports for constituents to consult.

Truly a week is a long time in politics, as they say.  But amid all the political hoo-ha, it is easy to forget that last week’s Budget had several announcements from which Herefordians can take cheer.

 

These include a further increase in the tax-free personal allowance to £11,500, a rise in small business rate relief and the continued freeze in fuel, beer and cider duties.

 

Beer and cider duties matter because Herefordshire is the largest hops producer and the foremost cider county in Britain, and this week I want to continue my EU referendum series by asking how Brexit would affect farmers and the rural economy.

 

At first glance, the answer may seem obvious.  The Common Agricultural Policy remains a nightmare of bureaucracy and paperwork for many farmers, while the related Common Fisheries Policy has done little to arrest declining fish stocks.  Surely it would be much better to be free of them?

 

But, as the National Farmers Union notes, it is actually impossible to make a firm judgement on these issues without knowing what relationship the UK would have with the EU, or the domestic conditions under which our farmers would have to operate, if we left.

 

Would our farm products be subject to an EU imports tariff?  Would the present farm subsidies continue to apply, only paid by the UK Government?

 

The broad facts are these.  The EU is the world’s largest agricultural trader.  Its agri-food exports totalled €122 billion in 2014, and it has a positive trade balance with the world of €18 billion.  The UK imports nearly twice as many agri-food products from other EU countries as it exports.

 

It’s been argued that this is a position of strength:  that “they need us more than we need them”, and so that other EU countries would have no interest to impose a tariff on us.

 

But in fact the position not quite clear.  Nations, like people, sometimes do irrational things when they’re angry.  And the rest of the EU might want to try to deter other countries from leaving by being tough with us.

 

We need to know what provision Government would make to replace farm subsidies and public investment in rural areas in the event of Brexit.

 

On the wider issues involved, I have created a special EU Referendum page on my website, www.jesse4hereford.com.  It is full of relevant articles and reports for constituents to consult.