The government has just days left to agree a trade deal with the EU or the UK will leave next March without one. That was the message from farming minister George Eustice, a Brexit supporter, to delegates at this year’s EPIC in Newport.
Eustice said unless a deal was agreed by the end of November there simply wouldn’t be enough parliamentary time to allow it to clear all the hurdles before the deadline of 29 March 2019, the day the UK officially leaves the EU.
“The next few weeks are crucial,” he said, speaking on 5 November. “Unless we have a withdrawal agreement by the end of November we will run out of legislative time to get an agreement through parliamentary procedure.”
Addressing the hall of around 350 egg and poultry industry delegates, he said he believed Brexit would be a success. “I think in five years’ time when we look back people will wonder what all the fuss was about.” Business has a “fear of change,” he said, “but the country voted for change.”
Eustice, who is Conservative MP for Cambourne and Redruth and has served as farming minister since 2015, said there were still “real challenges at the [Irish] border.
He said he was “very confident the prime minister will get an agreement with the EU,” but was less confident a majority of MPs would vote in favour of it in parliament. “That is when the real test will come. I hope parliament will take a sensible approach,” he said.
In the event of no deal being struck, Eustice said the government could keep goods moving across borders by implementing “a risk-based approach to border inspections” and would consider unilaterally introducing “tariff-free quotas” on certain EU goods.
He said the “central premise” of Brexit was that Europe does “not have to have a centralised system for free trade” to continue. “A moment of clarity is on its way by Christmas,” he added.
Addressing concerns about chlorinated chicken entering the UK market as part of a trade deal with the US, Eustice sought to reassure delegates. “The government has been absolutely clear we will maintain standards. Other countries may ask for that but we do not have to accept that,” he said.