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House of Commons Hansard
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Leaving the EU: Agricultural Sector
03 July 2018
Volume 644
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5. What assessment his Department has made of the fiscal effect on the agricultural sector of the UK leaving the EU customs union and single market. [906193]

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We are of course in the process of our negotiations with the European Union, and until they are concluded it will not be possible precisely to assess the impact on our agricultural sector, other than to assure the hon. Lady that agriculture has a very high priority for this Government. That is why we have pledged the same cash total in funds for farming as under the EU until the end of this Parliament.

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The Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated that Brexit will deliver significant damage to the economy and to Government receipts. In that context, will the Minister guarantee that farmers will not suffer a reduction in the level of support they currently receive in the post common agricultural policy period?

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As the hon. Lady will know, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is consulting currently and looking at the results of the recent consultation on how we should fund farming. Public money for public goods is at the centre of that approach. I reiterate that we have pledged the same cash total in funds for farming as under the EU for the rest of this Parliament.

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Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the agricultural sector is facing severe seasonal labour shortages, whose significant financial consequences are already being felt? Will he work with his ministerial colleagues to reintroduce the seasonal agricultural workers scheme, which has worked so successfully in the past?

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My hon. Friend raises a very important point of which the Government are of course acutely aware. We are working with DEFRA to examine the issue.

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After seeing the collapse in motor industry investment, does the Minister now accept that the Government must heed the call of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to rethink their Brexit negotiating position and to support a customs union with the European Union after Brexit?

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This is really about agriculture rather than about cars. The concept of an agricultural vehicle might come in handy to the hon. Lady in this context. I am sure that she meant to mention it—[Interruption.] Yes, I keep hearing about tractors from a sedentary position.

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To be fair, Mr Speaker, farmers do own cars, which is an important point to take into account. I assure the hon. Lady that this Government’s overriding objective is of course to negotiate an arrangement with the EU in which borders are as frictionless as possible, trade is kept flowing, supply chains are looked after and the agricultural and motoring sectors are supported.

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Due to the UK’s massive EU contributions, support to EU farmers will be cut as the UK leaves the EU. Does the Minister agree that the commitment to make payments to UK farmers until 2022 demonstrates this Government’s support for UK farmers?

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My hon. Friend is entirely right. The commitments of support that we have already made up until 2022—the end of this Parliament—are entirely indicative of the importance of the agricultural sector to our economy.

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Given that over 18% of Scotland’s international exports are food and drink related—our top export—this is an important question for people in Scotland. The EU’s average applied most-favoured-nation tariff for agricultural products is 11.1%, but it is different for individual products: 170% on oils, 157% on fruit and veg, and 152% on beverages and tobacco. How many agricultural jobs does the Treasury believe will be lost as a result of crashing out of the customs union without a trade deal?

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An objective of our negotiation is to ensure that we lower tariff barriers between ourselves and the EU27, as they will be known. The hon. Lady did not mention the tariff on whisky, which is currently 0%, and if we had an independent Scotland, she would be asking the same question in the context of the new border between ourselves and Scotland.

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People in Scotland are used to the UK Government making empty assurances, but the reality is that farmers cannot make plans on the strength of such assurances. Scottish farmers should have received over 80% of the convergence uplift moneys that the UK was given by the EU, but the UK Government have slashed that, passing only 16% on to Scottish farmers. Given the UK Government’s track record, how can farmers trust them to deliver?

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I repeat to the hon. Lady that we have already shown, through the actions that we have taken, the reassurances that we have given and the consultations that we have undertaken, that agriculture is a firm priority for this Government, and that will continue to be the case in the negotiations and going forwards.