Ministers must prove they are ready for all EU possibilities, says CLA

Ben Underwood, eastern regional director of the Country Land and Business Association.

Ben Underwood, eastern regional director of the Country Land and Business Association. - Credit: Su Anderson

Rural businesses face an uncertain future unless ministers give immediate commitments on what their plans would be after the EU referendum – whichever way the country decides to vote.

That is the message from countryside campaigners, who are calling for assurances that the government is equally prepared for Brexit or a vote to stay in the union.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has published its report named 'Leave or Remain: The decisions politicians must make to support the rural economy', following the opening salvos of a debate which has divided two of the farming industry's most senior politicians.

Environment secretary Elizabeth Truss, also the MP for South West Norfolk, is campaigning to remain in the EU, saying there is 'no Plan B' for leaving a single market with access to 500 million consumers.

Fellow Defra minister George Eustice, who is campaigning to leave, said an independent UK would 'without a shadow of doubt' be able to fund the farm subsidies, totalling more than £2bn, which are currently paid through the EU's agriculture policy – but has yet to reveal the details of how a British agricultural policy would work.

CLA East regional director Ben Underwood said: 'To campaign or govern without giving answers on how the rural economy will be sustained in the future, whether we leave or remain, undermines confidence and gives concern as to the future security of the rural economy.

'We have published this report in order to push ministers to confirm whether they are prepared for all eventualities.

Most Read

'If the UK votes to leave, the uncertainties for farming and other rural businesses are immediate and need to be addressed swiftly. If we vote to remain, there are still critical commitments that ministers will need to make before the next Common Agricultural Policy budget is agreed in 2020.

'The report is very clear on the four principal issues that need to be addressed in order to secure the continued health of the rural economy: Direct payments to the agricultural sector, trade, regulation, and the labour market.'

The document also provides information on the processes and decisions leading up to the referendum, and what might happen afterwards.

'We're not telling our members how to vote, but we make it very clear that we will be fighting to defend their interests whatever the outcome,' added Mr Underwood.