Transition will be the buzzword for Brexit negotiations, says Tenant Farmers’ Association chief executive George Dunn

George Dunn, Tenant Farmers' Association chief executive

George Dunn, Tenant Farmers' Association chief executive - Credit: Archant

The vote to leave the EU has generated a considerable amount of activity since the summer but apparently very little evidence of real progress, writes George Dunn, chief executive of the Tenant Farmers Association.

However, the plethora of ministerial roundtable engagements with stakeholder groups, cross-organisational gatherings, parliamentary enquiries and debates, media hype, speculation and analysis, conferences, seminars and one-to-one conversations has helped to sift out the main areas for consideration.

We are beginning to see appear a loose framework attempting to hone down what’s important, when it needs to be dealt with and by whom. For agriculture the main areas for attention are trade, access to labour, regulation and future policy.

There has been much talk about whether we will have a hard Brexit or a soft Brexit but one word that is emerging as important as we go into what will be an historic year for both the UK and the EU when we serve notice to quit the European Union is “transition”.

No one has yet has coined the phrase “transitional Brexit” but there is a growing realisation that the two years available for negotiating our exit under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty may not be sufficient to tie up all the necessary loose ends.

Turning first to trade, the position of the UK Government seems to be hardening around the idea of having some form of free trade agreement with the EU’s Single Market rather than being part of the Single Market itself. Being able to export to the European Union will continue to be important for our arable, sheep and beef sectors but may be less important for sectors such as dairy and pigs.

Other European countries will have a vested interest in protecting access to our market. We are only just beginning to understand how complex the trading links are between the UK and the other countries within the Single Market.

Most Read

The component parts of countless processed food and drink products traverse country borders many times before the finished products are produced. Everyone agrees that securing a bespoke trade deal between the UK and EU Single Market will take time but there is a vast degree of disagreement on how long this might take. Some say three years some say as much as 10 years. There is therefore bound to be some form of transitional arrangement whereby reciprocal access to each other’s markets is sustained while a bespoke trade agreement is negotiated.

Despite the hyperbole over immigration we are beginning to appreciate the extent to which we are reliant upon EU migrant labour both on our farms and in food processing plants. However, with a feeling of insecurity, exchange rate movements and unnecessary xenophobia, some of this labour is returning to their home countries and the void is not being made up by British nationals.

The Government appears to understand that we will need to continue to have access to seasonal labour. However, any arrangement on a new system for attracting permanent staff from the EU will, no doubt, be conditional upon the industry working with Government to transition towards filling these roles in the long term from domestic sources.

The Great Repeal Bill will attempt to write into UK statute books all of the current EU legislation that applies in and to the UK to allow us a period of transition from the date that we eventually leave the EU during which we will decide what we want to keep, delete or amend. The future policy framework for agriculture is likely to include an emphasis on risk management, resilience, infrastructural investment and outcomes for environment and animal welfare but again we are bound to see any new measures implemented over a period of time. We will all have to get used to being in a period of transition.