What is the true cost of Brexit for our farmers and our food supply?

Devon County Council is to receive a share of The Future Farming Resilience Fund from Defra.

Farming in Devon post-Brexit - Credit: Archant

Dear Reader, please look away now if you cannot bear any more about the negative effects flowing from the 2016 Referendum decision to withdraw from the European Union. You’d be perfectly forgiven, because how much more depressing news can we take?

For example, up in Glasgow a selection of world leaders is doing its best to fix the climate problem we were being taught about half a century ago. I’m knocking 60 now and well remember a Sunday Times magazine piece back in 1971 warning of the loss of the Amazon rainforest.

It’s not as if we didn’t know the consequences, it’s just that as a species we kept on rapaciously abusing our natural world, our one and only home planet. Our greatest skill seems to be an adroit capacity for not facing hard truths. All rather depressing.

Which brings me to the tragic state of British agriculture as a result of the Brexit vote. As with the rainforest warnings, the signs were there long before what happened in 2016, but the leading zealots for Leave simply ignored or even lied about them, and still do.

However, today we are finally able to look at the actual bill for all this, a process helped by meetings of the House of Commons Select Committee on the subject chaired by my MP in the eastern part of East Devon, Neil Parish, who is in a difficult position. He was against Leave, although like so many Conservatives who knew it would be a disaster, he hardly trumpeted this from the rooftops for fear of the fossilised membership who dominate local constituency parties.

Now he can see in black and white the ruination of much of British farming and he is similarly constrained from fully calling this out, although he is at least trying to fight the farmers’ corner. Ruination? Yes. We now know that crops, including courgettes, daffodils and raspberries, have been left to rot in the fields by the ton this year.

We know that thousands of pigs will be killed and never enter the food supply chain. Even more worryingly for food security we know that, as an example, tomato growers are simply not planting new crops for next year. Why would they when energy costs for their hothouses are soaring and the labour supply has vanished. All of this was predictable and predicted even by amateur observers like me.

The core problem is two-fold. First, Brexit fundamentalists like Jacob Rees-Mogg still crack on about a “world market” for food, where he can look down on cap-doffing folk from whichever castle he is weekending in and take pleasure that they are gorging on low-welfare meat transported at huge environmental cost from Australia at a lower retail price than UK produce. Huzzah, he says - never mind that a UK animal may only travel for eight hours while an Australian one can swelter on a 40-hour journey in great distress.

Second, the high priestess of fundamentalist anti-immigration policy, Priti Patel, is deaf to the agricultural industry’s pleas to allow more European migrants to travel without impediment to the UK to work in the fields, abattoirs and food processing plants. (The hospitality industry is desperate too). All the Referendum baloney about “only allowing in the brightest and the best”, a vile phrase if you think about it, makes a nonsense of the real needs of food production. A PhD is not required to pick a tomato, just an honest appetite for hard work, which we came to depend upon for half a century from an overseas workforce.

What is to be done? First step on the ladder, Neil and Simon, our local MPs, is that you know your senior Cabinet members lied about Europe for power and thus won’t tell the truth about the terrible cost in the here and now. You’ll win much respect if you today properly call this out.

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