What will happen to UK agriculture post-Brexit?

Written by James Nicholson on 27 June 2017 in Opinion

No one knows what a post-Brexit UK agricultural policy will look like, explains James Nicholson.

James Nicholson | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual

On 23 June 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. One year on, negotiations on our departure are finally underway. While there has obviously been much debate about Brexit, all are agreed that unpicking 40 years of European integration will not be a swift or easy process, and one of the best examples of this is probably agriculture.

It must be said that, at this moment, we do not know what a post-Brexit British agricultural policy would look like, and we have seen nothing concrete from the government, so we can only speculate. One thing I am sure of however is that we will end up with something very different from the status quo, with consequences for the producer right through to the consumer.

It should be noted that, at present, agriculture is a devolved matter within the UK, with Belfast, Edinburgh and Cardiff largely responsible for implementation in their respective regions. It is not yet clear whether repatriated powers from Brussels will be kept at Whitehall, or which powers will be subsequently devolved to the regions.


More broadly, under the common agricultural policy, Europe has historically supported the family farm structure. I am not confident that a UK government of any persuasion will have quite the same approach or understanding of the problems facing rural society. Indeed, in the longer term we may see a re-evaluation in how subsidies are allocated and readjustment within the sector as to how itis supported.

Outside the customs union, it will be up to the UK government to negotiate its own free trade agreements, and deals with markets such as the US, New Zealand and Mercosur have already been mooted. 

As with EU free trade agreements, these could pose problems for our food industry nationally if they are not negotiated in a reasonable manner.

Linked to this is of course the question of food standards, and while a 'cheap food' policy may be superficially appealing, UK consumers will not accept substandard produce flooding our market.

It is easy to look for pitfalls as the UK develops a new food policy, but we should also look to seize opportunities. As the UK is still a net importer of food, there is still much scope to increase local UK food production and allow entrepreneurial producers and processors to develop the UK market.

While Brexit poses challenges for the UK in terms of agriculture, it also poses serious questions for the EU's common agricultural policy. Most importantly, as it stands the UK's departure would lead to a shortfall in the CAP budget of some €10-12bn.

And of course there is no guarantee that agriculture will keep its large share of the overall EU budget.

The big difficulty at the moment is uncertainty, not just regarding future policy but also our trading relationship with Europe in the short and long term. When a Brexit deal is agreed, and we have a clearer idea of future UK food policy, a period of transition would allow the industry time to adjust and respond to the new challenges we will all face as a nation. The bottom line is that we will always need farmers to produce the food we require.


About the author

James Nicholson (ECR, UK) is a member of Parliament's agriculture committee

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