Rural communities could face ‘catastrophe’ if the Government fails to secure the right deal on Brexit with the European Union, according to the Country Land and Business Association (CLA).
The body, which works on behalf of landowners in rural England and Wales, has prepared a series of report which highlights the difficulties faced by farmer and businesses following the referendum.
The reports state that: “The major threat to the UK rural economy would be a situation where the UK removes itself from the EU without a preferential trade deal agreed while at the same time removing all tariff barriers for exporters from anywhere in the world to sell their goods into the UK market.
“This approach would be catastrophic for the rural economy and have dramatic and immediate consequences for the countryside, with many farmers unable to compete.”
It points out that the UK’s food sector is worth more than £100 billion and employs around 3.8 million, which would mean that any tariffs would result in significant hardship for the sector and the national economy as a whole.
“The UK’s agriculture and food sector has operated behind high tariff walls within the EU for decades. The EU is one of the world’s major food trading blocs,” say the authors of the report. However, they added that securing free trade with the EU following the UK’s departure from the bloc may not be simple.
“Historically the European Union has had a protectionist impulse when considering free trade agreements with non-members for food.”
The CLA believes that if an agreement on a future trade deal cannot be agreed in two years, then a transitional arrangement should be put in place to prevent disruption.
“As the UK repositions outside of the single market, a carefully considered and staggered approach must be taken to allow businesses the time to adapt,” the CLA report states.
“It may be possible to secure a permanent deal that takes effect within the next two years, and this should be the aim of the negotiations, but if it cannot be achieved, both sides must ensure transitional arrangements are put in place well in advance of Brexit.”