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Ed's Brexit round-up - Agriculture Bill special!

12th Oct 2018 / By Ed Barker

After a quiet summer recess, it has been full steam ahead as far as UK farming and politics are concerned.

Agriculture Bill

Ed EFRAMany of you will have seen that this week saw agriculture front and centre of Parliament, as the new Agriculture Bill was presented on the floor of the House of Commons, and MPs were given the change to debate its outline. For what it is worth, there is a useful outline summary of the Bill here and the NPA briefing on the Bill that we sent to MPs can be found here

It certainly provided an interesting day for those of us who don’t often see agriculture debated for such a period of time on the floor of the House. The overarching theme was that whilst many MPs welcome the fact that we have a new Bill that will be able to set a truly UK-based agricultural policy, many had reservations. Many MPs decried the absence of food production, as specifically mentioned, from the Bill. This is something that we, and others like the NFU have articulated for some time.  

Import standards

The other issue that cut through was standards relating to imports – either from in our out of the EU. This came through time and again – as it did throughout the conservative and labour party conferences, over the past month. Many will have seen that Liam Fox and Michael Gove have, time and time again, reassured us that standards will not drop post-Brexit, that’s fine. However, as has been pointed out a number of times, that is very different to allowing products to come in, produced to standards that are illegal here – be it stalls, antibiotics as growth promoters, porcine plasma or ractopamine.

On this point, it has been notable how ambiguous Ministers have been on the subject – wilful ignorance? Legal technicalities? Unwilling to cut of new trade deals before we have even started? I will leave that to you to decide. What we do know is that MPs are not – thankfully – letting it pass by. More interestingly, neither are the green NGOs and welfare organisations who pressed this home throughout the party conference season as well. Having been at the conservative conference for a number of days, it was striking how similar ours, and those of the welfare NGOs, views are aligned on this.

As many Brexiteer ministers know, by ruling out such standards altogether, it could end new trade deals before we have even started to negotiate them. Certainly one to watch.

MPs' support 

It is most certainly worth having a look at the piece on the NPA website here as our efforts in briefing MPs certainly seemed to work – we had a flurry of MPs from across the political spectrum who articulated issues about the UK pig sector, whilst others made exactly the points we needed on migrant labour and trade with the EU and non-EU post Brexit. I know that many members have been in discussion with their local MP at various events or shows, which always helps us in our lobbying work. MPs are far more predisposed to talk to their constituents and farmers than us where the opportunity arises – if any of you know of any meetings you are soon to have with your local MP, be sure to get in touch with us here and we can give you the most up to date briefings and information.

What next? 

What next then? Although the Agriculture Bill is an ‘enabling’ Bill – there are a number of technical aspects of it that we are working on. We will be submitting suggested tweaks and amendments to the wording before it goes through its own Bill Committee – line by line – before it goes again back to the House for votes. In addition, many of you will have seen the poll we recently ran to help inform us on what future support measures – if any – we should be looking at under a future agricultural policy.

The Bill gives a lot of powers for new areas to fund – disease eradication, welfare, productivity etc and now is our chance to decide what we want out of it! Of course all eyes will be on the big picture, and if the Prime Minster can secure a final deal past both the EU and her own Cabinet. Once again Northern Ireland will be the snag; expect a lot more horsetrading and last minute deals that may well make us no clearer than when we started.

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