British farmers would grow more food domestically if the UK left the European Union without a trade deal and fresh tariffs added to imported produce, a Government minister has said.
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling was quizzed about a claim by Sainsbury’s chairman David Tyler, who told the Sunday Times that a ‘no deal Brexit’ could result in an average 22% tariff on all EU food bought by British retailers.
But Grayling, appearing on the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, dismissed the fears, suggesting instead Britain would be “grow more here and buy more from around the world”.
The hike in costs would come from ending tariff-free trade with the EU and reverting to World Trade Organisation rules, which would see the UK hit with tariffs straightaway of up to 40% on some beef and dairy products.
Around 70% of the food the UK imports comes from the EU. While the National Farmers Union has welcomed the prospect of the UK being more self-sufficient, it has warned the food cupboard would be bear within seven months under a ‘cliff-edge’ Brexit. In the interview, Marr asked about a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which some eurosceptics have recently suggested would not be the catastrophe critics claim.
Marr: “What would that do to food prices?”
Grayling: “What it would do is that it would mean that producer-supermarket, bought more at home, that British farmers produced more, they bought more from around the world and it would damage French producers and continental producers. You may remember the fuss about the Walloon farmers when they objected to a Canadian trade deal. Their biggest customer was us, they will be damaged if we don’t have a deal.”
Marr: “So they will be damaged but ordinary families in Britain will be damaged. The head of Sainsbury’s has made that clear ... a 22% increase in food price, others have said they will rocket if we have no deal.”
Grayling: “What we will do is grow more here and buy more from round the world. But that will mean bad news for continental farmer, that is why it won’t happen because it is in their interests to reach a deal.”
Jenny Chapman MP, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Minister, said Grayling’s answer was “ridiculous”.
“Rather than planning for no deal, ministers appear to be telling us to dig for no deal,” she said.
“British farmers already work incredibly hard and to suggest that they could simply grow more food is ridiculous.”
The NFU has said 30 years ago the UK produced 80% of its own food, but now it was 60%.
Farmers have also raised concerns about the impact of an immigration crackdown on their ability to get food from farm to fork, and the future of much-needed subsidies once the UK leaves the Common Agricultural Policy.
Nick von Westenholz, the NFU’s director of EU exit and international trade, warned “hard Brexit” would mean “big disruption” for farmers, and making up the slack domestically was “not realistic” in the short-term.