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Farmers voice no-deal Brexit fears during MEP's visit

PUBLISHED: 06:00 30 August 2019 | UPDATED: 08:41 30 August 2019

East of England MEP Barbara Gibson visited farms to hear their concerns over a no-deal Brexit. From left:  Jules Ewart, Graham Crickmore, Barbara Gibson and Charles Hesketh. Picture: Brian Finnerty / NFU

East of England MEP Barbara Gibson visited farms to hear their concerns over a no-deal Brexit. From left: Jules Ewart, Graham Crickmore, Barbara Gibson and Charles Hesketh. Picture: Brian Finnerty / NFU

Brian Finnerty / NFU

The worrying implications of a no-deal Brexit for East Anglian agriculture dominated the discussions as an MEP toured farms in east Suffolk.

East of England MEP Barbara Gibson visited farms to hear their concerns over a no-deal Brexit. Pictured: Barbara Gibson and farmer Chis Middleditch. Pictured: Picture: Brian Finnerty / NFUEast of England MEP Barbara Gibson visited farms to hear their concerns over a no-deal Brexit. Pictured: Barbara Gibson and farmer Chis Middleditch. Pictured: Picture: Brian Finnerty / NFU

Barbara Gibson, Liberal Democrat MEP for the East of England, met father-and-son Roger and Chris Middleditch at their mixed family farm at Wrentham before visiting Fen Farm Dairy in Bungay.

Issues under discussion included the potential loss of key export markets in the EU, the threat posed by cheap food imports, labour availability and concerns about how possible border delays could affect essential farm supplies.

"Everything I have heard today, and at other farmer meetings, is that the worst possible outcome would be a no deal Brexit," said Dr Gibson.

"Yes, people want this resolved but they don't want the situation resolved by crashing out of the EU without an agreement. We are going to need a good relationship with our largest export market in the future and leaving without a deal is not the way to achieve that.

East of England MEP Barbara Gibson visited farms to hear their concerns over a no-deal Brexit. Pictured: Cheese-making at Fen Farm Dairy - Stevan Peckett, Charles Hesketh and Barbara Gibson. Picture: Brian Finnerty / NFUEast of England MEP Barbara Gibson visited farms to hear their concerns over a no-deal Brexit. Pictured: Cheese-making at Fen Farm Dairy - Stevan Peckett, Charles Hesketh and Barbara Gibson. Picture: Brian Finnerty / NFU

"The farmers I met today talked about finding the right balance between food production and caring for the environment. They didn't have a problem with that but in the future they could be trying to compete with countries that don't make that kind of trade-off."

Accompanying the MEP on her visit was Charles Hesketh, Suffolk county adviser for the National Farmers' Union, who said: "This was a useful opportunity to highlight the importance of food and farming in Suffolk and also to discuss the concerns our members have about a no-deal Brexit.

"We've been clear all along that the best Brexit outcome for British farming is reaching a deal with the EU that ensures free and frictionless trade with our largest trading partner, and continued access for people who want to come and work on British farms."

At Wrentham, Dr Gibson heard how Roger and Chris Middleditch have expanded the business. They currently farm about 5,000 acres in a mixture of tenancies and contract-farming agreements, including a pig enterprise of 1,000 outdoor breeding sows.

The business benefits from easy access to the ports but the family are concerned they could lose that advantage in the event of a no-deal, with lower crop prices for wheat and barley.

At Fen Farm Dairy, the MEP met farmer Graham Crickmore and production manager Stevan Peckett, who looks after the farm's award-winning cheese enterprise. Mr Peckett took the group through the cheese-making process and explained how the business was stocking up on supplies sourced from the EU, such as wrapping and boxes, in case of border delays.

Mr Peckett said one Eastern European employee had decided to return home in the wake of the EU referendum result while another was waiting to find out if her application for settled status had been successful.

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