A vote to leave the European Union would leave Britain’s farmers facing years of uncertainty and risk being denied access to vital markets, Defra secretary Liz Truss has said.
The minister warned that leaving the EU would be a leap in the dark for British agriculture, and could put the country’s European food and farming export market – worth £11billion each year – at risk.
Speaking on the opening day of the NFU annual conference in Birmingham Ms Truss said working within a reformed EU would reduce bureaucracy while offering significant benefits of the single market – something which could not be guaranteed outside the union.
“At a time of severe price volatility and global market uncertainty I believe it would be wrong to take a leap into the dark,” she told 1,300 conference delegates.
“The years of complication and risk caused by negotiation withdrawal would be a distraction from our efforts to build a world-leading food and farming industry.”
Ms Truss acknowledged that the current Cap was unnecessarily complicated, and that she wanted to see more decisions made at national and local levels in areas like pesticides and environmental stewardship.
However remaining part of a reformed EU would give Britain the chance to work to reduce bureaucracy and secure further reform while still enjoying the benefits the single market brought.
“At the moment we are part of the single market with access to 500million consumers, and we are part of making the rules. If we were to negotiate a deal we don’t know what that outcome would look like,” said Ms Truss.
“If were to leave we would most probably have to follow the rules around trade regardless. If we wanted full access to the market we would likely have to accept free movement of about and still pay into the EU.”
Having previously admitted that Defra had no Plan B for agriculture should the country vote to leave the EU, Ms Truss said the government was set to publish a document outlining alternatives for the country in the coming weeks.
“But the real answer is we don’t know exactly what it will look like – voting to leave really is a step into the unknown,” said Ms Truss.