Farming opinion: The £1billion question: what would happen to farming outside the EU?
- Credit: PA
I think that most of us have learnt over the past few months that opinion polls and surveys are better taken with a pinch of salt, writes Stephen Rash.
If you believed the pollsters we would now have a Labour Government and an independent Scotland, which may or may not, depending on your views, be a good thing.
Of course the Scottish referendum was nowhere near as close as the polls showed, but they led to widespread panic and profligate promises from Westminster, which again may or may not have influenced the final vote. Now, within the next 18 months or so, we will face another referendum. This time we will have to decide whether to stay part of the European Union or not.
I am old enough to have voted in the 1975 referendum, having voted for the first time in the previous October’s General Election. At that time I voted, along with 67% of those who bothered to turn out, to remain part of the then EEC.
My vote was cast as I believed that being part of a group of similar, stable European countries sharing tariff-free trade and common values was a good thing. At that time I am sure none of us saw it expanding to 28 countries, with ever more lining up to join.
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The resultant expansion has not been without problems, particularly as former Eastern bloc counties have joined and Russia’s traditional sphere of influence has diminished.
The problems in the Ukraine appear to be Russia drawing a line in the sand, and the resultant trade embargoes from both sides have had an adverse effect on British farmers, causing in no small part the problems in our dairy industry.
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The question will be whether to remain in a union following a renegotiation of the terms of our membership. How and what will be agreed? We are not part of the euro and we have an opt-out from the Schengen agreement, so those two aspects are not up for discussion.
Within the other member states, there appears to be little appetite for granting concessions to the UK, and the current migration and refugee crisis leaves many countries at loggerheads with their neighbours, hardly the best time to start a conversation about letting the UK have its own way.
The Prime Minister has said that, if a satisfactory result cannot be obtained from these talks, he would recommend that the UK votes to leave the EU. The previously mentioned opinion polls currently show a small majority in favour of that option too.
So what would happen to UK, and more particularly English and East Anglian farming, outside the EU?
Well that’s the billion pound question. Without EU support payments most farms would struggle to be viable. In years like this, when the pendulum of price volatility swings the wrong way, they are vital as crops trade way below the cost of production. The EEC I voted to stay in had mechanisms to iron out the peaks and troughs, though time has shown that those methods were unsustainable. From the main political parties there has been a marked silence on any vision for a post-EU agricultural regime, with only UKIP having said what its policy might be. Over the next few months it is vital for Suffolk’s farming, the environment and countryside that these policies are announced, so that when the time comes we can all go to the polls properly informed. We don’t need policy and promises made in a panic for this referendum.
Stephen Rash is an arable and beef farmer from Wortham near Diss and the NFU council delegate for Suffolk