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Ed's Brexit round-up

26th Jan 2018 / By Ed Barker

Ed BarkerAfter the Oxford Farming Conference brought us into 2018 with a bang, all has been slow on the Brexit front. However there are some signs that movement is being made on some of the key issues.

Immigration developments

Whilst the recent reshuffle didn’t impact DEFRA, it did impact the Home Office and Number 10 policy people; one interesting area is that of immigration. Now, 2017 wasn’t a great year for migration policy – our meetings with officials and MPs was very much in favour of restricting European migrants – be they workers or not – because that is part of the sentiment behind Brexit, or so we were told.

Now, the former migration Minister Brandon Lewis (who represents the Brexit supporting constituency of Great Yarmouth) has moved on and Caroline Noakes, a Southampton area MP has replaced him. Members may remember that last Autumn, a call for evidence was launched by the Migration Advisory Committee which won’t be reporting to Parliament until Autumn of this year.

This means the Government can conveniently kick it into the long grass, and tell anyone with difficult questions to wait until then. Because of this, and other questionable assertions by Ministers on the impact of migrant labour, the EFRA Select Committee has launched a call for evidence on migrant labour – one year on from doing so last year. The Committee is not convinced by Government assertions, and want to really hold them to account on this.

As a result, we submitted a robust response to EFRA that took into account results from our survey, as well as providing sensible and pragmatic solutions to help address this shortfall. We also used comments from members that draw a clearer picture of the real impact labour shortages are having. Perhaps 2018 will be much improved in this area.

Davos circus

This week sees the annual circus of world and business leaders in Davos. One thing that has been interesting has been recent overtures by the US on trade. Only last week the USA willingly placed high tariffs on fridge freezers (of well known brands) on Asian countries. Rhetoric from the US has suggest that the administration there is happy to pursue a trade war, and shake up the WTO.

This could mean that it will seek to exploit Brexit to export its products further to the UK, and challenge the EU market. As we know in pigs, this could mean a further devaluation of standards in foods on our shelves. There does still seem to be some idealism in Westminster about a trade deal with the US being a silver bullet; this week has shown that the US, like many other countries, will act in its own interests, and put roadblocks in the way where it sees fit.

Defra visits PG

This week we had a very useful meeting between officials from Defra and Producer Group members. The officials were from the productivity team in Defra, set to look at how to improve this in UK agriculture post-Brexit. It does show that Defra and Whitehall are out there looking for answers for some of the most key questions facing our sector.

We as industry are inevitably going to be leaned heavily upon throughout this process to help provide solutions to some of the obvious problems faced by Brexit, and as a result it is a great opportunity for us all. We expect the Defra team to come back later in the year to talk to Producer Group, so do speak to your regional representative after having voted in elections first!