Boris Johnson's deal, with its continuing threat of a no deal exit should negotiations fail, may appeal to the Prime Minister's new shock troops in Government who are insulated from the consequences of their decisions. However, for many farmers that I know their business that will suffer if we end up with a no deal Brexit.
Tariffs, customs checks and countless other new issues face a farming industry for which the EU represents 60% of its exports. If there is one sector that has clarified my mind about the utmost importance of avoiding no deal, it is the one on my doorstep: agriculture.
Under WTO rules, the average EU tariff on dairy products is over 30%, while tariffs could be as high as 87% for frozen beef. We also could face a tariff of 46% for cheese or 21% for tomatoes. These are not isolated cases, but the prevailing reality of trying to export food under WTO rules.
The agricultural sector is worth £109bn to the economy and employs 3.8 million people. If these tariffs are imposed it will cost billions of pounds and decimate employment in the sector.
Trade in food is not an issue that will only hit farmers. Those tariffs on our food going to the continent will also be levied on goods entering the UK from the EU – by value, this represents 70% of the food, feed and drink imported by the UK. As the UK only produces 60% of the food we eat, that means higher prices for all of us – a reality accepted even by Michael Gove last weekend.
I'll be frank. Many farmers I speak to are scared. Scared for their businesses, for their employees and their livelihoods, but also scared for the country. They take pride in being the breadbasket of Britain, providing the food we eat, food which the rest of the world envies. What is more, while they see some opportunities from an orderly exit, they resent being told to welcome with open arms a no deal Brexit they know will hurt their farms and humiliate their country.
Westminster may seem a world away from the farm, but I can promise you, farmers are some of the most astute and dedicated Westminster watchers in the country. This is because they know that what happens here will affect their businesses and that the wrong choice by the wrong Minister can cause chaos.
Whenever I have raised these concerns with Ministers, there has been a lot of hand waving. They say that there will be financial support for farmers, and others who lose their businesses. I'm told that there's a plan, but never the details. This approach is heart-breaking to see. Farmers don't want their businesses trashed followed by a pay-out. They want to be able to compete on a level playing field and to have their hard work rewarded by a fair market. This cannot be guaranteed under the revised deal, or worse still a no deal Brexit; instead decades of work will go up in flames for farmers across the UK.