This article was first published on The Commentator.
Following the numerous scaremongering stories from David Cameron and the Britain Stronger in Europe (BSE) campaign, British farmers are understandably nervous about the potential impact of Brexit on their livelihoods. Many UK farmers are dependent on EU subsidies, without which they would go out of business.
They are not sure they can trust the UK Government to provide similar subsidies if the UK votes to Leave the EU, and Cameron isn’t in a hurry to reassure them, while he continues with his ‘Project Fear’ campaign.
Sadly, for many, it may end up with ‘sticking with the devil you know’ with the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which, for all its faults, will continue to subsidise them, but perhaps with diminishing support from the EU as has happened before. Farmers may be scared of risking change with UK politicians, who do not seem to view farming as such a high priority.
This week, Cameron ‘used’ sheep farmers for photo ops — cuddling lambs in Wales. It used to be babies, but now it’s lambs. Does he have no shame
There are around 300,000 farmers across the UK, all asking why they should vote to leave a union which pays them subsidies, on which many of them depend. They may question the long-term sustainability of a policy which pays them to do nothing with their land for years at a time — due to the compulsory ‘set-aside’ scheme.
In turn, British farmers will try and reassure themselves their militant colleagues over on the Continent will never allow the EU to weaken the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). This is rather misguided however, as the CAP, like many other EU policies, is in fact geared against our UK farmers. French farmers receive far more than over here in Britain. Why?
Much is made by Europhiles of the £billions British farmers receive from the EU. What the public do not understand is that our UK farmers now receive only 38 percent (it used to be 50 percent) of the £6 billion we contribute to the CAP every year.
You do not need to be a fund manager to recognise this is a poor investment, and that our farmers are not getting a good deal. The reality is British farmers, as a result of being far less militant than say the French, have far less influence than their continental counterparts.
This means they have little meaningful influence on how the CAP rebate is calculated, despite the huge bill faced by the British taxpayer. The result of this is France receives over double the amount of CAP funding granted to the UK. Disparities like this are a regular occurrence within the EU, which regularly listens to the most aggressive and powerful hugely costly lobbies in Brussels. Money clearly has influence.
There are very good reasons why farmers should and must support Brexit. It would relieve them from much of the excessive, time-consuming regulations and directives which come from Brussels. George Eustice, the Minister of State for Farming, has already highlighted how 80 percent of legislation affecting The Department for Environment, Food, & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) comes from the EU.
This red tape takes a number of different guises, ranging from demands from Brussels to put up huge billboards ‘thanking’ the EU for subsidies — i.e. our farmers are being forced to advertise the EU.
Then there is the absurd notion farmers must pay for passports for sheep. Removing much of this red tape will not only make British farmers’ lives easier, but will also make their farms much more competitive. This in turn will enable them to sell their produce to a more global market, rather than relying on the declining EU.
There will undoubtedly be claims from environmentalist groups — many of which are EU-funded — that these regulations are important for the ecological benefit of the UK countryside. However, our own government — post-Brexit — will be able to examine whether these regulations are as environmentally beneficial to the UK as these EU-sponsored groups claim.
We should question whether bureaucrats in Brussels know what is best for both our farmers and our British countryside. When you look at the regulations which are supposed to be the same for farms all across the EU, it becomes glaringly obvious EU regulations are aimed more at establishing uniformity across all EU member states, rather than ensuring the long-term financial and environmental sustainability of our UK farms.
Europhiles will point to the ‘security’ of being inside the CAP, which is supposed to provide a ‘protected market’. Tariffs are charged on agricultural products from outside the EU compared with the artificially ‘stabilised’ prices within the European Union. While to some extent this may aid farmers who trade inside the bloc, it hinders British farmers who want to expand their market and export outside the EU.
Considering Europe is the one continent in demographic and economic decline, it seems incredibly short-sighted for Britain to be forced to focus on trading solely with the EU, rather than also trading with the rest of the world.
New Zealand producers, for example, have greatly benefitted from an increase in demand for lamb in China and the Far East. Leaving the EU would enable the UK to do trade deals with these emerging markets, removing most tariffs, and providing huge opportunities for British farmers — as well as many other businesses throughout the United Kingdom.
Leaving the EU’s protectionism would also benefit British consumers. Ever since the Treaty of Rome, we have been required to apply an External Food Tariff (EFT) to foods produced outside the EU. The removal of these tariffs would make importing food from outside the EU much cheaper. These saving would then be passed on to consumers — the public here in Britain.
Farmers and food producers in developing countries would also be another beneficiary of Brexit. They currently find it extremely difficult — if not impossible — to export to Europe due to high tariffs. Removing many of these would make it much easier for them to export to Britain. Such a move would benefit these countries far more than the millions misspent as part of the UK’s foreign aid budget.
The EU’s protectionism is a product of a bygone age and Brexit would enable the UK to embrace a more economically and indeed morally sound trading policy.
It should be obvious to everyone who examines the detail that our own agricultural policy will be much better directed from here in the UK. This will enable a far more tailored and flexible policy, which addresses the genuine issues which are of huge concern to British farmers.
Such an approach will not only be more effective, but also more efficient, as it will enable us to cut out the EU middle-man. It has been estimated that direct subsidies from the UK government to British farmers would save us £2.8 billion a year, whilst maintaining current CAP spending levels of around £3 billion.
While you consider the potential savings, alongside the £6 billion a year the UK pays into the CAP, you might like to consider that after Brexit it will be financially beneficial both for farmers and the United Kingdom as a whole — rather than the rest of our money being spent subsidising all those more militant farmers on the continent.
As we come up to the referendum, David Cameron wants to cause as much uncertainty as possible so he does not want to assure farmers they would continue to receive subsidiaries from our Government post-Brexit.
He wants to scare voters, and farmers, into backing Remain. Leaving the EU will in fact increase the power of our farmers, allowing them to shape and influence their own agricultural policies. Brexit will restore the power of our MPs as well as our farmers, ensuring we can hold the Government to account for a much more effective agricultural policy, better suited to the needs of our farmers and the United Kingdom.
We can help to make sure they will survive — and indeed thrive — long into the future outside the EU. Britain’s farmers must not listen to the government’s lies and scaremongering and should vote to Get Britain Out of the EU.