OXFORD, England (Reuters) - Britain’s farmers face rising costs if the country leaves the EU without a deal as export tariffs kick in and border inspections slow traffic through ports, Farming and Environment Minister Michael Gove said on Thursday.
Gove, who was in the ‘leavers’ camp in the 2016 referendum campaign on European Union membership, said Brexit could bring real gains. But they “risk being undermined if we leave the EU without a deal,” he told the annual Oxford Farming Conference.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, and the departure agreement that Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated with Brussels hangs in the balance ahead of a parliamentary vote this month.
“The turbulence which would be generated by our departure without a deal would be considerable. Particularly for our smaller farmers and food businesses,” Gove said.
Many British exports reach European markets through the narrow strait between Dover and Calais.
“At the moment there are no border inspection posts at Calais. While we hope the French take steps to build capacity there, it is unlikely by the end of March to be generous,” Gove said.
There would also be higher haulage costs and significant tariffs on exports such as beef and sheep meat and, while the government was seeking to mitigate these costs, “nobody can be blithe or blase about the real impact on food production of leaving without a deal”.
The minister said the deal agreed by Prime Minister Theresa May would provide a 21-month transition period in which current access to EU markets would be maintained.
“It (May’s deal) isn’t perfect but let’s not make the perfect the enemy of the good,” he said.
Reporting by Nigel Hunt; editing by John Stonestreet