In April 2019 we hosted a Brexit Breakfast for the agriculture & rural affairs sector, following up the one we held in October 2017. Speakers included Richard Thomas and Colin Hall (BTF Partnership), Doug Jackson (NFU) and Rob Lister (R & B S Finance).
Overall their message was that despite challenges ahead, land prices were likely to remain stable, the Agriculture Bill was an opportunity to establish a fair and competitive environment, and the banks are willing to provide financial support for farmers and new projects, with interest rates continuing to be low. However, technology was not ready to replace or reduce the need for employment of skilled agricultural workers and the proposed quota of seasonal migrant works was still completely inadequate.
We posed the same series of questions as in 2017, to gauge whether views had changed. In 2017, 76% favoured a soft Brexit. This year it fell to 58%. In 2017, 45% were quite confident in the economy in the next 12 months. Interestingly, this remained the same. In 2017, 34% of attendees saw export opportunities as a main benefit of Brexit, whereas this year only 6% still held this view. A new question was posed about a second referendum. 53% voted for a second referendum to 47% against.
Many attendees were concerned that the government would not properly recognise the importance of the sector. However, we concluded that British farming practice should be lauded as among the best in the world, and that, if we can educate the public on food provenance and increase production, there are many opportunities for British farming post Brexit.
A few weeks away from the new deadline of 31 October, there is still uncertainty, but at least we have cabinet unity, if not parliamentary unity, and ‘no deal’ seems more likely.