NFU Scotland backs May’s Brexit deal

Scotland’s farmers have given their backing to Theresa May’s draft EU withdrawal agreement, saying it takes the prospect of a “deeply damaging” no-deal Brexit off the table.

NFU Scotland said that, while not perfect, the deal will allow trade in agricultural goods and UK food and drink to continue largely as before throughout the transition period, and said the opportunity should be taken.

NFU Scotland’s president Andrew McCornick addressed the issue of Brexit while speaking at agricultural event AgriScot, staged at Ingliston near Edinburgh on Wednesday.

He called on the UK and Scottish governments to make “very clear and meaningful commitments” to the farming industry.

Mr McCornick said: “The draft Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, while not perfect, will ensure that there are no hard barriers on the day we leave the European Union, and will allow trade in agricultural goods and UK food and drink to continue throughout the transition period largely as before.

“This opportunity needs to be taken as it offers free and frictionless trade, no tariffs, no non-tariff barriers and no resorting to World Trade Organisation rules on day one. Importantly, it also presents a pathway to future trading arrangements being put in place.

“That same level of certainty must also be delivered around the Agriculture Bill passing through Westminster just now.”

He added: “To allay fears and deliver certainty, we need clarity on Scotland’s ability to deliver support both in 2019 and 2020 but also to have the ability to design and implement a new, fully supported agricultural policy for Scotland beyond that date.”

NFU Scotland said a no deal would be “deeply damaging”.

The UK Government welcomed NFU Scotland’s support for the draft withdrawal agreement and urged the Scottish Government to back it.

A spokesman said: “The deal will allow for the UK’s smooth and orderly exit from the EU and it works for the whole of the UK, including Scotland.

“Other sectors – including the whisky industry – have also welcomed the deal. It is increasingly clear that securing the deal and avoiding a no-deal Brexit is essential for the Scottish economy.

“The alternatives to this deal simply take us back to square one – more division, more uncertainty, and a failure to deliver on the decision of the British people.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said that continued, permanent single market and customs union membership for the whole of the UK is an alternative to the deal the Prime Minister has presented, but Theresa May has rejected a call to renegotiate for a softer Brexit.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing MSP said: “The Scottish Government has set out the most detailed proposals to provide certainty and stability on future funding for farming and food production in the UK. Our plan provides a transition period up to 2024 and today, we announced a taskforce to help shape changes which simplify the current system.

“We have been absolutely clear that payments will continue to be made in 2019 and in 2020. Farming is devolved and we are working hard to ensure that those powers are not grabbed by the UK Government, so that we have all the powers we need to design and legislate for a future policy and support system for the rural economy.

“Scotland did not choose to be in this position, and it is the UK Government which needs to provide urgent clarity on the key issue of what replaces Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding – Brexit is their policy and they are the ones at the negotiating table.”