Cutting ties with the European Union and the resultant prospect of another Scottish independence referendum could throw Scotland’s farmers into years of uncertainty, former MEP George Lyon has warned.
A member of the Britain Stronger in Europe group, Lyon told the English NFU conference yesterday that claims made by other groups that leaving the EU would benefit farmers were fanciful – and that such an outcome would leave producers facing a financial black hole as both trade and support would be put at risk.
The EU hasn’t held the UK economy back – it’s helped make us one of the most successful economies in the worldGeorge Lyon
Lyon said voters needed to ignore claims the UK could “have all the good bits” of the EU whilst no longer being part of it.
And he warned that Scotland’s farmers would be gambling their bottom lines if the country gave up its right to trade freely across Europe.
“Some 60 per cent of our food and drink is exported to the EU, with millions of jobs created,” he told delegates.
“The EU hasn’t held the UK economy back – it’s helped make us one of the most successful economies in the world.”
In an impassioned speech, Lyon said the EU provided UK farmers with a safety net in times of crisis, access to markets and ensured producers weren’t disadvantaged against others in Europe.
“EU support is vital to the financial prosperity of our businesses,” he added, before he rejected claims that the UK government would continue to provide subsidies to farmers outside the union.
“[In the most recent CAP reforms] the government’s negotiating position was a phase-out of subsidies,” he said. “Would the UK government prioritise agricultural interests in trade negotiations? Leaving will put things at risk and cost millions of pounds in a messy divorce.
“What’s more, we’d face having to comply with the same regulations if we wanted to agree a new trade deal with the EU, but we’d have to stand outside looking in when those regulations were agreed.”
However, Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan told the meeting that leaving the EU would result in huge financial savings for the country, whilst protecting the interests of UK farmers.
Hannan, who is also secretary-general of the Alliance of European Conservatives and Reformists, said it was madness that the UK paid £4.6 billion to the EU, but got back just £2.9bn from the Common Agricultural Policy.
“We could have a set acreage grant without any complexity,” he told delegates. “We would guarantee that for the next five to six years we would give £90 per acre to farmers, bringing them closer to the EU average.”
Describing the EU as “arthritic” and a “clanking tube which dribbles out policies”, he said the UK should be given the opportunity to design its own agricultural policy which suited British farmers.
He said the UK would also push for a “free trade, global future”, arguing that British farmers could enjoy the benefits of EU trade without being encumbered by legislation and red tape.
“There are uncertainties in leaving, but there are uncertainties in staying,” he added.
“No-one can see the future, but the EU path leads to more stagnation.”