General Election 2019: What does Tory win mean for Norfolk farming?
PUBLISHED: 11:22 13 December 2019 | UPDATED: 16:16 13 December 2019
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Farming leaders said Boris Johnson’s general election win could relieve the “political paralysis” over Brexit – but urgent questions remain over how the prime minister will protect East Anglia’s vital food industry.
The issue of post-Brexit trade and food standards was the sector's key concern during the election campaign, with fears that deals could be struck offering some foreign exporters tariff-free access to the UK, potentially flooding the country with cheap foods produced to low environmental and animal welfare standards which would be illegal here.
Rachel Carrington, East Anglia regional director for the National Farmers' Union (NFU), said: "This [election] result means there should be an end to the political paralysis we've seen over Brexit but the key question for Norfolk and Suffolk farm businesses is what happens next?
"Will our high standards of production be protected in future trade policy? Will those businesses have access to a skilled and competent workforce to help grow our food? Will we still have free and frictionless trade with the EU, by far our biggest export market?
"The NFU manifesto sets out how crucial it is for farmers, the public and the countryside that the next government delivers on these questions, with policies that allow our vital food and farming sector to thrive.
"NFU staff and members engaged with candidates from across the political spectrum during the election campaign and we must now build on that as the region's newly-elected MPs get to work.
"There has never been a more important time to make farming's voice heard and to make the case for backing British farming as we prepare for life outside the European Union."
Cath Crowther is the East regional director for the Country Land and Business Association, which represents thousands of landowners and rural businesses across Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
"Many will breathe a sigh of relief that this result at least brings a degree of political certainty," she said. "But for all the claims of 'getting Brexit done' the idea that Brexit ends on January 31 is wrong.
"Assuming we leave the EU soon, we will have less than a year to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with Europe or else once again 'no deal' is back on the table. This timeframe is hugely optimistic.
"Never forget, though, the extent to which European agriculture needs a deal with the UK - the EU runs a £20bn agriculture trade surplus with the UK, and a traded goods surplus of almost £100bn. The idea that the EU can shrug off a dramatically reduced trade relationship with the UK is naïve. With a stable government in place, at least the prime minister can negotiate with a greater degree of strength than before the election.
"We will do what we can to help government negotiate comprehensive agreements not just with the EU but across the world. But government needs to earn the trust of rural communities by guaranteeing that UK farmers will not be undercut by cheap imports produced to lower standards."
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