Crofters’ Brexit concerns must be heard, warns Carmichael
The Tory government should listen more carefully to the concerns of farmers and crofters ahead of the UK withdrawal from the EU.
That is the warning from Isles MP Alistair Carmichael after renewed warnings of the “catastrophic” impact a no deal Brexit could have.
It comes after the National Farmers Union for Scotland warned of “unworkable” tariffs facing produce earmarked for export to EU countries if no formal trade agreement can be reached.
The NFU has already supported the Prime Minister’s negotiated deal with EU leaders.
But Theresa May’s government was handed a Brexit bombshell this week when the House of Commons Speaker John Bercow ruled out a third “meaningful vote” on the same deal.
Warnings have also been made in a report by charity Scottish Rural Action that rural Scotland could face a “21st-century clearances” as a result of Brexit.
That is a stance which will chime with SIC member Stephen Leask, who coined the phrase when voicing his concerns last year.
The Tories protest they are seeking to protect the interests of agriculture.
But Mr Carmichael warns farming and crofting may find itself being treated in the same way that fishing arguably was during the 1970s.
“Has the minister seen the call from the president of the National Farmers Union for Scotland, asking the government to abandon their proposals for an applied tariff in the event of a no deal Brexit?” Mr Carmichael said in the House of Commons.
“As he pointed out, without the maintenance of tariff protections we would be in danger of opening up the UK to imported food which would be illegal to be produced here.
“In the 1970s, his predecessors in the Conservative government then regarded our fishermen as expendable. It is beginning to look like this government has taken the same attitude towards our farmers.”
Responding, under-secretary of state for exiting the European Union, Chris Heaton-Harris, said he “disagreed entirely”.
“The tariff schedule is designed to protect every sector of the economy including agriculture,” he said.
He also insisted standards of agricultural goods would not be dropped.
Mr Carmichael later said the agricultural industry was being ignored.
“The minister can disagree with me all he wants, but he can’t dismiss the views of our farmers and crofters. They know what they are talking about and have genuine concerns about whether food standards will be eroded as a result of cheaper imports.”
Earlier, NFU Scotland president Andrew McCornick insisted leaving with no deal would be “catastrophic”.
“The government’s recent no-deal applied tariff policy announcement confirms our view that to leave the EU without a deal in place would be catastrophic for UK farming.
“While we acknowledge that the tariff policy announced earlier this month is intended to be temporary and would be in direct response to an undesirable situation facing the country, we have very significant concerns about the damage this policy would cause to farmers across the country.
“Without the maintenance of tariff protections, we would be in danger of opening up the UK to imported food which would be illegal to be produced here, produced at a lower cost because it may fail to meet the environmental and animal welfare standards which are legally required of our own farmers.”