‘No deal’ Brexit looks increasingly likely, outgoing farm chief fears
PUBLISHED: 13:51 17 July 2020 | UPDATED: 10:53 20 July 2020
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An outgoing regional farmers’ leader admitted that she personally “struggled to see the benefits of Brexit” as she prepares to move to France.
Two years ago, National Farmers’ Union (NFU) East regional director Rachel Carrington was braced for Brexit – but nothing could have prepared her for the unprecedented tumult of recent times.
Having worked her way up to the top job when she succeeded Robert Sheasby as regional director she was already belted in for a bumpy ride.
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But even with 26 years’ experience at the NFU’s Newmarket office, and before that, nine years as an agronomist with agricultural advisory organisation ADAS , her short tenure has coincided with an unpredictable series of events for farming – and for society as a whole.
“It has been a whirlwind – it hasn’t settled yet,” she admits. “Nothing is going to come as a surprise any more.”
Rachel is now heading off to make a new life in France, having presided over two years like no other – culminating in the coronavirus crisis.
Ironically, it’s the prospect of a hard Brexit which has forced her hand after many years in which she and husband Paul have happily divided their time between their Suffolk home and a doer-upper in an idyllic stretch of French countryside between Poitiers and Limoges.
But the probability of a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year following December 2019’s election landslide for a hard Brexit-leaning Tory party is rising.
A ‘no-deal’ Brexit – along with the end of farm subsidy as we know it and some of the biggest changes in farm policy in several generations – could have potentially profound effects on East Anglian farmers.
It also meant that Rachel and her husband had to consider the timing of their move to France in a bid to minimise any additional red tape which might follow an abrupt British exit from Europe and ensure their residency issue is settled.
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“I’m finding it very sad really because I have obviously seen at first hand all the advantages of us being in Europe and the freedom to travel,” she says.
“I personally struggle to see the advantages of Brexit in terms of ‘we’ll manage our own borders’,” she added. “Is that really going to make us better and stronger?”
She also thinks that the Brexit vote took place in an atmosphere which generated more heat than light.
“I think the campaigning was done in the absence of a lot of hard facts and information and sadly a lot of people voted with their hearts rather than their heads.”
However, she believes that despite fears about export tariffs, food imports, checks at borders, issues over standards and a host of other challenges for farmers which may follow if no deal is reached, things will settle down.
“I’m sure things will work out. Things will settle down – we’ll find our own way of doing things,” she says. “It’s going to be a bit turbulent for a few months.”
In any case, any real economic hit the UK takes from Brexit may well end up being masked by the far bigger economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis, she believes.
“I tend to think there’s more than a 50% chance of a no deal,” she adds. “That’s me very much as a personal view – that’s not an NFU view.”
There may be positives – such as a greater customer loyalty to British-grown produce. The NFU is trying to persuade the big supermarkets that showing loyalty to British farmers could be to their advantage too.
She has missed the Suffolk Show and a host of other events during lockdown when she had hoped to say her goodbyes - although she will be seeing Suffolk farmers via the internet for a final sign-off on Tuesday (July 23). She had received some “lovely messages”, she says, and will retain her strong ties with Suffolk.
But having invested a lot of blood, sweat and tears in their holiday home in France, she and her heating engineer husband are now keen to enjoy a break, do some travelling in their campervan, and work on converting a cottage on their land into a gite.
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