A no-deal Brexit would seriously harm the UK’s farmers, Michael Gove has admitted.
The Environment Secretary told the National Farmer’s Union (NFU) conference that there was “no absolute guarantee” that British farmers could export any of their produce to the EU in a no-deal scenario, and would face punishing tariffs even if they could.
Mr Gove also dismissed speculation that the UK Government could slash tariffs on food imports after Brexit, an idea hinted at by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox.
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The suggestion had angered food producers, who warned they would be forced out of business by a flood of cheap imports.
“It will not be the case that we will have zero rate tariffs on food products, there will be protection for agriculture and food,” Mr Gove said.
The Environment Secretary said that with six weeks to go until Brexit, the UK had not been formally designated by the EU as a ‘third country’.
Health and safety audits required by Brussels before that can happen could take up to six months, effectively locking British producers out of their biggest market under a no-deal Brexit.
“The EU still have not listed the UK as a full third country,” Mr Gove said. “As I speak there is no absolute guarantee we will continue to be able to export to the EU.”
A no deal scenario would result in delays at Channel ports because fresh food and animal products will all be subject to checks, he confirmed.
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And in a warning that the food sector may never fully recover from no-deal even if a trade agreement was struck in future, Mr Gove added that “it will be difficult to reestablish that market access even if tariffs reduced in the future.”
Meanwhile, the business secretary Greg Clark has told the Make UK manufacturers' conference that the risks from no deal Brexit are "unacceptable" and "need to be brought to a conclusion and without further delay".
It was reported that Mr Clark and three fellow cabinet ministers including Scottish Secretary David Mundell have told the Prime Minister that she faces a wave of resignations unless a no-deal Brexit is ruled out by the end of February.