Friday 19 February 2016

Former Labour MEP Baroness Morgan claims leaving the EU will cause "absolute devastation" to farmers

Labour peer, Baroness Morgan, has written a bizarre article for Wales Online urging the National Farmers Union (NFU) to tell Welsh farmers about the "absolute devastation" that would befall the farming industry when we leave the EU.

The "absolute devastation" would apparently be caused by the EU no longer giving us back £3bn in CAP payments from the £20bn membership fee we have to pay to be in the EU, the inability of Welsh farmers to sell lamb to the EU because by some leap of inexplicable logic leaving the EU means nobody in the EU will want to buy anything from the UK and because we will have to negotiate agreements with 27 EU member states rather than negotiating one agreement with the EU like the rest of the world does.

She goes on to suggest that the EU can be trusted to keep on subsidising farmers as they currently do but the British and Welsh governments can't be trusted to support Welsh farmers in the same way.

Her entire article is so dishonest that it needs to be taken apart point by point. I'm going to have to paraphrase because like most politicians she says a lot without actually saying much. It should also be borne in mind that Baroness Morgan is a former Labour MEP and is required to promote the EU in order to qualify for her very generous EU pension when she retires.

CAP payments are worth over £bn to the UK and 50% of Welsh farmers would have made a loss if it wasn't for subsidies.

That £3bn paid out to UK farmers (not just Welsh farmers) is paid for using our own money. We pay about £20bn in membership fees to be in the EU and get £3bn back in farming subsidies. The price of that is hundreds of thousands of pages of legislation on how farmers can farm, expensive schemes like electronic passports and tagging, unfettered competition from other EU countries who can supply supermarkets for a fraction of the cost of UK farmers and giving up the right of the British and Welsh governments to legislate on farming and agriculture.

We could pay the entire amount paid in subsidies to the UK under the Common Agricultural Policy for less than 8 weeks of what we pay to be in the EU and in doing so direct it to the farmers that need it the most and in a way that suits the needs and priorities of our own farming industry rather than under a single set of rules that is supposed to reconcile the interests of Italian olive growers, Polish dairy farmers, French pig farmers and Welsh hill farmers at the same time.

Farmers shouldn't have faith in the British government to support them when we leave the EU.

The EU currently controls farming in its entirety. The British government merely transposes EU legislation and directives into domestic law, it doesn't have any say on policy or what those laws achieve. Changes to any aspect of farming, including CAP subsidies, are decided by the EU. The UK is one voice amongst 28 member states and has never successfully blocked EU legislation that the British government has opposed. If the EU decided to abolish CAP payments then we would have one vote out of 28 member states. Of those member states, only 8 - the UK included - receive more than €2bn a year in CAP subsidies. CAP subsidies really aren't a priority for the majority of EU member states who would quite happily see the 40% of the EU budget spent on farming subsidies diverted elsewhere.
When militant French farmers are unhappy with something they go to Brussels in their tractors and clog up the streets outside the EU Parliament. They don't bother protesting at home so much any more because they know the French government can't fix what's wrong. They attempt to influence the EU policy makers in Belgium in the hope that they'll propose something that all 28 member states will agree to which will in turn be supported by a majority of the 751 MEPs from those 28 member states which will then hopefully eventually make it into French law to have the effect that was originally intended.

When we leave the EU, farmers in the UK will be able to lobby the British and devolved governments directly who will be able to make a decision based on our own interests and to suit our own farmers. They won't need to agree a set of rules that suit farmers from across an entire continent, just what works for us. Farming subsidies can be paid directly to the farmers that need them in a way that suits them and based on our own priorities. If farmers are unhappy with the way they're being treated by the British government they can lobby or protest the British government, not an unelected bureaucracy in another country.

Norway is the 10th largest contributor to the EU budget, has no say on the EU's rules and we would have to pay £7.5bn to access EU markets on the same terms.

When we leave the EU we will negotiate our own trade agreement with the EU. We don't need to adopt the Norway model or the Switzerland model or the Iceland model or the Greenland model. The UK is the EU's largest export market, it is of far more value to them than the EU is to us. We export more to the rest of the world than we do to the EU and the gap is increasing year on year. We may have to make a contribution to the EU to continue to access the common market but given the disproportionate value of the UK market to the EU you could argue that the EU should pay for access to the UK.

It is dishonest to say that Norway has no say on how the EU is run because as an EFTA member Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and the other non-EU EFTA members get to examine, debate and amend proposed legislation affecting the common market right at the start of the legislative process. The legislation that gets to the EU committees and parliament is already shaped by Norway and others.

73% of agri-food exports go to the EU and the terms of our trade with the EU will change when we leave.

It is correct to say that approximately 73% of UK agri-food exports are destined for EU countries but that's only half the story. The UK imports twice as much agri-food products from EU countries as it exports. Of course the way we trade with the EU will change when we leave, there would be no point leaving the EU if nothing changed. But the World Trade Organisation has said that trade tariffs would have to remain as they are now when the UK leaves the EU and that no further barriers to trade can be established.

Any agreement we make with the EU when we leave will be made difficult by the fact that all 27 remaining members would have to agree to it.

This is exactly the same as the current situation. We are one voice amongst 28, 73 MEPs out of 751. We don't call the shots, the decisions are made by other countries who form their own blocs - eastern European countries, France and Germany, the Mediterranean countries. The difference is, when we're out of the EU if we don't like what the other 27 countries come up with we're under no obligation to go along with it. People like Baroness Morgan say that we will have to follow all the EU's rules to keep access to the common market but Switzerland has shown that not to be the case. Switzerland decided in a referendum to abolish free movement of people with the EU, the EU told them they weren't allowed and would be kicked out of the EEA if they did and they did it anyway. There has been no punitive action taken against Switzerland because as a sovereign nation they can do what they want.

Under the EU's own Lisbon Treaty the EU is required to have friendly relations with its neighbours that encourage prosperity. This, coupled with the fact that the UK is the EU's largest export market and the world's 6th largest economy, means that the EU has no choice but to agree a sensible trade agreement with the UK. They won't make it easy of course but we hold all the cards. We have a resilient economy and conduct most of our trade outside of the EU, we could survive without free trade with the EU if necessary. The EU has an incredibly weak and volatile economy and conducts most of its trade with the UK, they can't survive without free trade with the UK.

A leap into the dark is the last thing the agriculture sector needs when times are tough.

Leaving the EU isn't a "leap into the dark". If you want to know what happens when you leave the EU look at Greenland which left in 1985. They did most of their trade with North America and economically and culturally they weren't Europeans. The EU didn't work for them so they left. If you want to know what it's like being in Europe but not in the EU look at the 23 countries in Europe that aren't in the EU. If you want to know what it's like trading with the world without being in the EU then look at the 169 countries that aren't. Going back to being an independent nation after the 43 year failed experiment of being in the EU isn't taking a leap into the dark, it's going back to what we know.