Boris Johnson leaves behind a bitter legacy for farming
“The sad reality that farmers live with is that they have no friends in Westminster. Everyone can now wonder if they had more friends in Brussels before Brexit than they have now in London.
The phrase “the time has come for all good men to come to the aid of the party” was conceived in early typewriters as a test of speed – but it will take more than “a few good men” to save a The British government is now in freefall.
Time will tell where all this will lead and what initiatives will be rushed by the new ministers. But for agriculture, no upheaval will free it from the urban orientation that has guided policy since Boris Johnson took office.
Johnson has always made a big deal about how Brexit frees the UK from Europe and the EU ties. Being outside the single market maximizes this flexibility, but at a high cost in terms of ease of market access.
The resulting problems, in the form of a steady decline in exports to our main markets, while imports have not been affected and the problems with the Northern Ireland protocol, stem from the fact that the sovereignty comes before market access.
That’s why farmers will look enviously at France, which has gone it alone by banning the use of meat-related terms like sausages and steak for plant-based products. This does not extend to burgers, which is a generic term.
This will not have a big impact on the global market for plant-based alternatives and under EU rules it can only be applied for products made in France. It is nevertheless a sign that the French government is always ready to ignore public criticism to take a stand in favor of farmers.
It was the EU that obtained, through the European Court, the banning of the term “milk” for vegetable substitutes, but it was unable to extend this ban to meat.
That’s why France has gone it alone and it’s not an easy road under EU rules and because of Brexit no such restrictions exist in the UK. The government here could introduce similar legislation and make it even stricter without any challenge from the EU, the European Court or any of the 27 EU member states.
It would be an example of the Brexit dividend Johnson sold before the referendum and the freedom he claimed when he “delivered Brexit”. However, the chances of a stand on behalf of agriculture are slim.
Voices in county country that once brought rural savvy have been extinguished by the new urban guard led by Johnson. They are as dead now as the one-nation conservatives who viewed politics in terms of what was good for the country and the party rather than in terms of themselves and party donors.
A resurgence of this thinking around social conservatism may be the only way to restore faith in conservative government, but the roots of self-interest Johnson planted run so deep it could take an entire generation and period of opposition for this thought to emerge. .
The sad reality that farmers live with is that they have no friends in Westminster. Each individual can then ask themselves whether they had more friends in Brussels before Brexit than they have in London today.
As he sought, before the latest events, to rebuild his image, Johnson spoke again of trade agreements with Commonwealth countries. For him, India is the grand prize and again we had the familiar bluster that this would be the real Brexit dividend.
Farmers know that there is nothing for them in such a trade policy and minimal protection. When it comes to New Zealand and the trade deal it now has with the EU, we can see how much better protected farmers were by Brussels than farmers here were by London.
There’s no escaping the reality that with a population of just 60 million, the UK will always have to give more than the EU to buy deals. Trade is about scale and even for the EU life is getting harder.
There is still a healthy positive spread, but not as good as before, between exports and imports, but trade is difficult due to the fallout from Ukraine. The loss of an export market in Russia was a blow to EU exports as it was an important market for countries bordering it.
This reflects the price paid by all countries for its principled stand against Russia. The numbers confirm that trade deals alone cannot offset the seismic shock to normalcy the world is currently experiencing.