Llyr Gruffydd, Plaid Cymru AM for the North of Wales
Brexit – particularly a no deal Brexit, poses the greatest existential threat of our generation to the agricultural sector in Wales.
I firmly believe that best way to stop a no deal and protect Welsh agriculture from its devastating impact is to move on to the real solutions, to extend Article 50, and with greater clarity around what leave now means, put the question of our European future to the people.
However, by refusing to back a People’s Vote, the Labour Party is as culpable as the Tories in allowing a disastrous no deal exit from the EU and threatens the very existence of our agriculture sector.
Currently, almost 75% of Welsh food and drink exports are to EU countries and 70% of UK imports in these products were from the EU.
We know, for example, that there could be huge implications for animal-based products such as meat, eggs and dairy that are being exported currently to the EU. They will only import from approved countries, and it could take months for us under a ‘no deal’ scenario to achieve such status.
Export tariffs could be imposed on 60 per cent of the UK food, feed and drink that goes to the EU, potentially increasing export tariffs to an average of 27 per cent on chicken, 46 per cent on lamb, and 65 per cent on beef.
Research from organisations such as Meat Promotion Wales and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) have consistently highlighted the negative impact that World Trade Organisation tariffs would have – with exports in the sheep sector being worst hit, pricing farmers out of our nearest and most valuable export market.
Furthermore, if the Government allows low or tariff-free beef imports – potentially from countries with lower standards of production and regulation, it will have a hugely negative impact on the Welsh beef industry.
The sudden end of labour mobility from the EU would also cause serious problems when it comes to securing labour to harvest and process UK produce. The British Veterinary Association has also warned that a no deal Brexit will exacerbate current shortages in the veterinary profession and create significant risks for trade, animal health and welfare, and food safety.
Last week, the Farmers Union of Wales released a statement which stated that, given the result of the vote and the dangers of a no deal scenario, their chairmen and presidential team “felt that the only way we can take back control of the Brexit process is to withdraw Article 50” and by doing so to “safeguard the future of the agricultural industry” in Wales and across the UK.
They also noted the growing support for a second referendum across the country, reflected in the agriculture sector.
For NFU Cymru a no deal scenario would also be completely unacceptable. They note that as a third country, “we would face significant regulatory barriers when it comes to exporting to the EU27, further eroding our competitive position” warning that a ‘cliff-edge Brexit could bring farms to the brink of collapse’.
The Welsh shellfish industry share the same fears. The Welsh Fishermen’s Association (WFA) has warned “people would start going out of business” after just four weeks if custom checks and restrictions caused delays. In 2017, they landed £38.8m worth of produce, with 90% sold directly to EU markets. Any delay in the transit of these commodities will cause a lot of problems as they are live shellfish and they need to be supplied as soon as possible.
There is no mandate for this disastrous no deal Brexit. There is, rather, a clear consensus from all directions that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would be the most harmful Brexit of all.
Leaving the EU without a deal would be a mistake of historic proportions which would cause great harm to people’s livelihoods, wellbeing and security. Plaid Cymru firmly believes that a People’s Vote is a solution for everyone, however the Labour Party continues to stand in the way.
Plaid Cymru believes that a final say referendum is the only remaining solution to the political stalemate and the only possible way to avoid a catastrophic no deal scenario that would almost certainly devastate our agriculture sector in Wales.
It’s about time Labour realised this.
A ‘no deal’ Brexit is the worst of all worlds, and it has to be rejected.