I had the pleasure of attending a meeting of the Lutterworth Dairy Farmers’ Group at the Lutterworth Cricket Club on January 28th, with our UKIP Agriculture Spokesman (and Chief Whip) Stuart Agnew. For me, it was just down the road (Stuart had the long trek from Norfolk), and an easy evening, because naturally with farmers Stuart did most of the work. Farmers are naturally worried about what happens to their CAP cheques when we leave the EU.
Stuart reminded them that Britain had a perfectly good farm support scheme before we joined the EU, and will have one afterwards. The difference is that it will be a scheme designed in Britain for British farmers, not a scheme designed in Brussels for French farmers. Some people seem to think of the EU’s CAP as uniquely generous, but Stuart produced figures showing that in terms of percent of GDP spent on farm support, the EU is in the middle of the pack.
Of course we assume that the current Conservative government will still be in place the day after the Brexit vote, and we can’t speak for them. But all politicians recognise the importance of food security, rural employment, and maintenance of the countryside, and it is inconceivable that the UK government would not. In reply to those who questioned whether a British government would be as generous as Brussels, Stuart reminded us that the UK contributes around £6 billion to the EU CAP budget — but gets only £3 billion back — so there’ll be cash to spare.
One point which Stuart stressed for agriculture (and is true more generally) was this: that a vote for the EU is not a vote for the status quo. It is a vote for a process leading inevitably to a United States of Europe. The new countries that may join the EU (and especially Turkey, which David Cameron wants in) are very poor. So they will be net beneficiaries. They will attract extra CAP funding — which means less money for Britain (and France and Germany). Stuart also pointed to regulatory developments that will damage farmers. We ban GM crops in the EU — but import GM crops from abroad. We are banning critical herbicides and pesticides — but importing crops grown abroad with the same chemicals. We are undermining the competitiveness of UK and European agriculture, while driving up imports and hurting our balance of payments. I could not but reflect that in the energy field (my specialist subject) we are doing exactly the same — undermining competitiveness in Europe, and driving jobs and industry and investment off-shore. There’s only one solution. The only way is Brexit.
Next day, on Jan 29th, I was saddened to read of the plight of dairy farmers. Some have fixed contracts, but the open market price is now so low that many are struggling. Slack exports to China and Russia are blamed — but perhaps the end of China’s one-child policy may increase demand for milk and milk products.