Michael Gove gave a forceful backing for Theresa May’s Brexit deal at the Oxford Farming Conference today, warning of the “considerable impacts” a no-deal scenario would have on agriculture.
Gove told the audience he wanted Britain to become “the vanguard nation for this century’s New Agricultural Revolution,” saying he wanted Defra and Britain’s food leadership “to be ambitious, to ask big questions and challenge lazy orthodoxies”.
But he reaffirmed the difficulties Britain faces in the event of a no-deal Brexit ahead of a crucial parliamentary vote on the deal, scheduled for the week starting January 14.
“It’s important to be straight about the significant challenges of a no-deal Brexit,” Gove said. “The real gains of leaving the EU risk being undermined if we leave the EU without a deal.
“The impact would be considerable. It would hit worst the small farmers and small food producers. While Project Fear proved to be a fiction, when we look at what a no-deal Brexit could involve, we do need to be clear about the costs and facts.”
He warned of higher tariffs on livestock exports, as well as friction at the borders, where fruit and veg consignments face could face costly delays. “The EU have said 100 per cent of products will face sanitary and phytosanitary checks.
“At the moment there are no border inspection posts at Calais. While we do hope the French take steps to build capacity there, that capacity is unlikely by the end of March to be generous.
“Nobody can be blithe or blasé about the real impact on food producers of leaving without a deal, that’s why I hope my colleagues in parliament support the Prime Minister’s deal.”
Speaking ahead of the event Minette Batters said: “There have been enough warm words and comfort to us as farmers but now is time for decisions from the government about how it will secure the nation’s food supply. We are less than 90 days away from Brexit and there is still enormous uncertainty about the future and how domestic food production fits into that.”
Gove was adamant on the gains of Brexit however: “I argued for Britain to leave the European Union and I believe strongly that our departure allows us to rejuvenate our democracy, make power more accountable, escape from the bureaucratic straitjacket of the CAP and develop a more vibrant farming sector with access to technologies the EU is turning its back on.”
He also give some of his strongest signals yet on his favourable disposition for gene-editing, following the ECJ’s ruling last year which effectively proscribed it from commercial use.
“Everyone appreciates that there’s a distinction between gene editing and genetic modification,” said Gove. “It’s a process of accelerating what selective breeding can produce. I think it has the potential for dramatically improving our food production.
“Of course we have to be ethically vigilant. But it’s important that we don’t allow the well organised lobbying of some groups to divert the debate away from the potential of gene editing.”