Comment: Farming’s Brexit Conundrum

By the Uncivil Servant, our new anonymous columnist with an insider’s view of government.

Many farmers will be royally shafted by Brexit, and are complaining loudly about every aspect of it, yet the majority still want to leave, or have at least swallowed it. I admit that’s a massive generalisation (an arable farmer near me has ploughed ‘Britain now wants to remain’ into his field and taken aerial photographs of it.)

Why? For one thing, most farmers are fed up of operating in the grey. We’re a long-term industry and the election result confirms an overwhelming desire to crack-on with Brexit; despite the fact that some farm businesses will hit the wall as a result.

The other reason is a blind faith that, as food producers, the government will look after them. It’s misguided. We have the most intervention-averse Cabinet in history, and a political agenda that is greener than an over-fertilised field.

Farmers have been too eager to believe the rhetoric; recall Gove’s effusive speech at NFU conference last February, Boris’s ridiculous promise to Cumbrian livestock farmers on his campaign trail that they could have ‘whatever’, and Villier’s (unconvincing) assurances on protecting food standards in future trade deals. To that end, I think Boris’s strapline of ‘Get Brexit Done’, however dangerous, resonated strongly with farmers.

In other news, some will be using the Christmas break to polish up their CVs. The Grocery Code Adjudicator (GCA), Christine Tacon, will leave in March after six years in the role. for her successor are being held from 10 February. Her appointment was the first of its kind. A referee to enforce the rules on the pitch, where farmers and suppliers endured lots of foul play. It was influential in both political and commercial worlds. And, most importantly, it has been a success.

In the time that the GCA has been appointed suppliers have reported improvements in every aspect of retail dealings. To illustrate, one farmer privately shared some correspondence with Asda. He’d sent an email to Asda’s compliance officer questioning a request from a buyer. Within 24 hours a senior executive had issued an apology, withdrawn the request and offered a personal assurance that he would not be subject to any breaches of the code again.

It remains far from perfect of course. They are still retailers. But, I look forward to seeing who picks up the baton next. 


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