The announcement of the Brexit Referendum in June has set the debate running across the whole country but I have been listening particularly carefully to the farming debate. The reality of the present situation is that the majority of people to whom I speak are saying that they genuinely do not know which way they will vote. Farmers, however, are in a quite different situation to almost all other voters as they, alone, are the beneficiaries of very significant funding under the terms of the Common Agricultural Policy. It is no exaggeration that the monies paid to farmers, calculated on the basis of the Basic Farm Payment Entitlements which they hold, underpins most profit and loss accounts. Equally, many will say that the money comes at the cost of far reaching and onerous regulation. Therein lies the debate.
If we leave the EU, nobody quite knows what will happen to support payments for agriculture. Presumably there would be some support but how much? To what extent is the industry prepared to rely on free trade and the open market?
A recent report by the “Farmer-Scientist Network” concludes that it is “difficult to see exit as beneficial to the UK farming sector, or to the food and drink industry more generally”. It goes onto concede that there are many other factors which will influence voters. The reality is that no other member state has ever withdrawn from the EU and no one quite knows what the consequences will be. Perhaps, if we leave, it will prove to be an isolated incident and the remaining states will continue as before. The apocalyptic view is that once one state withdraws, the edifice will come tumbling down. As ever, the real answer is probably somewhere in between the two poles but, of course, nobody knows where.
It is certainly not for me to offer a view and, however pressed I may be, I do not propose to be tempted to do so! However, the fact remains that farmers have more at stake than most other members of the community and the decision making process will be a difficult one. Although 23 June seems a long way away, we may well need the intervening time to weigh up the arguments and make up our minds.