Brexit lobbying by farming and fishing interests

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Few industries will be affected by Brexit as much as the farming and fishing sectors.

The UK is expected to withdraw from the Common Agricultural Policy, but what will replace the payments going to farmers? Likewise, what will it mean to quit the Common Fisheries Policy? Will Brexit lead to EU regulations being ditched in the UK, such as on pesticides use? If the UK opens its borders to low-cost food producers, what will that do to farming incomes? Will new trade deals lead to lower standards for food and farming? Will a post-Brexit UK embrace genetically-modified crops?

The person with the power to answer some of these questions, Michael Gove, secretary of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is one of the government's strongest Brexit supporters. He is backed in the department by farming minister and fellow Brexiteer, George Eustice. Both are the target of fierce lobbying by the food, farming and fisheries industries.

Here we start to look at some of these organisations petitioning government, their hired lobbyists, political connections and positioning.

If you have any information on lobbying by food, farming, or fishing interests that you think should be shared on this page, please contact spininfo[at]spinwatch.org.

Farming lobby

UK farming lobby groups

National Farmers Union. The (NFU), the largest farmers' organisation in England and Wales, backed the UK staying in the EU. However, post-referendum it sees Brexit as providing a 'unique opportunity to assess the regulatory environment' for farmers. This includes tweaking EU laws as they are transferred to UK law through the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, and a more significant post-Brexit review of regulations.

The NFU has routine meetings with government, including farming minister George Eustice. It has hired lobbying agency Portland Communications, which used to employ not only Eustice, but both special advisers of the current environment secretary Michael Gove.

Overseas farming lobby groups

Australia

Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), which represents Australian beef, sheep (and goat) farmers, launched a campaign in May 2017 to get restrictions and tariffs lifted on Australian meat and see increased exports to the UK post-Brexit. Part of its campaign aims to draw in third parties to 'help get [their] message through' to UK policymakers, such as UK-based companies, or individuals with an interest in the Australian meat industry. This includes UK investors in livestock-producing land in Australia, which would benefit from an increase in exports. UK-based individuals and investment funds are by far the largest foreign investors in Australian agricultural land and include Conservative donor and Brexit supporter, Michael Hintze. In early 2017, MLA hired UK lobbying agency Hume Brophy, which has run third-party advocacy campaigns for the tobacco industry. Hume Brophy has worked for MLA in Brussels, for example, lobbying Conservative MEPs in 2010 over ways to increase imports of Australian red meat into the EU.

United States

Food producers in the US want Britain to cut EU regulations after Brexit to boost the chances of striking a free-trade deal between the two countries. Ted McKinney, undersecretary for trade at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, says they 'hope that the UK will look for its own food standards, environmental safety protocols,' as the US 'finds the EU a very difficult place to do business.'[1]

Think tanks for market reforms

A number of British think tanks are advocating reform of the farming sector post-Brexit, including how to fund British farming after leaving the EU.

  • Open Europe. The Eurosceptic think tank has long called for the dismantling of the Common Agricultural Policy, the EU system through which farmers receive subsidies. However, believing this to be too politically challenging, on 27 February 2012 it published a report – More for Less – proposing reform of the CAP. Its proposals centred on replacing subsidies with a system of 'agri-environmental allowances', which would be allocated to farmers that were providing environmental benefits. Farmers who wanted to opt out, could.[2]
  • Institute of Economic Affairs. The free market think tank has also long advocated the scrapping of farm subsidies. It published a report, Liberating farming from the CAP by Sean Rickard, the day after Open Europe's report, on 28 February 2012, which unapologetically called for direct EU subsidies to be scrapped. IEA presented its report to the then newly-created APPG on European Reform, which was run by Open Europe.[3]
  • Adam Smith Institute's 2016 Rebooting Britain report by its president, Dr Madsen Pirie, echoed calls for a 'New Zealand style abolition of agricultural subsidies' once Britain leaves the EU and is out of the Common Agricultural Policy.[4]
  • Bright Blue, the right-leaning think tank, released a report on 20 November 2017 calling for subsidy payments to be replaced with means-tested support and a market-system for farmers to bid for 'green' contracts.
  • Chatham House produced a report earlier in November 2017 similarly calling for 'a market-oriented model... with a more effective commitment to the environment and climate change mitigation'.[5]

Fishing lobby

Fishing for Leave

Notes

  1. U.S. Urges U.K. to Cut EU Rules After Brexit to Boost Trade, Bloomberg, 4 Jan 2018
  2. [ More for Less: Making the EU’s farm policy work for growth and the environment], Open Europe, February 2012
  3. EU should abolish agricultural subsidies to hold down the price of food, IEA, 28 February 2012
  4. Rebooting Britain, ASI, 20 July 2016
  5. The Implications of Brexit for UK, EU and Global Agricultural Reform in the Next Decade, Chatham House, 02 November 2017