Michael Gove has faced claims the UK Government is guilty of a “feckless and reckless” approach to Brexit and that a no-deal scenario risks “irreparable” harm to the farming industry.
The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was urged to take no deal off the table by Fergus Ewing, Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary, as the pair attended a public question-and-answer session in Edinburgh on Monday.
Mr Ewing told an audience at the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture (SASA) headquarters: “Unless we take a no deal off the table there will be irreparable harm, particularly to our sheep, our lamb sector that is so reliant on exports to the EU that a collapse in the lamb price would be an inevitable consequence.”
The event was attended by representatives from NFU Scotland, Quality Meat Scotland, RSPB, Scottish Environment LINK and the Scottish Organic Producers Association, among others.
Mr Ewing highlighted Scottish Government concerns over labour, trade and funding in a post-Brexit UK.
He said: “We in the Scottish Government believe very strongly that the UK’s Government’s approach to Brexit has been feckless and reckless, and has consequences which, foreseeably, will cause substantial damage and harm to the rural economy.”
He asked Mr Gove: “If there is to be Brexit will you rule out a no deal? You can do so. That’s the most immediate threat facing us all.”
Mr Gove said there were “legitimate” concerns among the agricultural sector about leaving the EU without a deal.
He said: “It’s true – I make no bones about it – if we leave the European Union without a deal we will face tariffs of at least 40% on sheep.”
He said the impact on the export trade would depend on a variety of factors, including the extent to which sterling would depreciate and therefore make exports more competitive.
He added: “The critical thing is that if we have a deal then these problems don’t arise, and therefore I would hope that you would put pressure on all your elected representatives to support a deal.
“Because the easiest way to take no deal off the table is if Members of Parliament from Scotland vote for a deal.”
Mr Gove said the majority of farmers had voted to leave the EU, and that the Common Agricultural Policy had imposed a “straightjacket, one-size-fits-all, rigid, bureaucratic system” on how UK farmers operate.
“There’s a significant opportunity to strip away some of the unnecessary bureaucracy to ensure that support for farmers is delivered more effectively and to ensure that food producers can do even better in the future,” he said.