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Ministers Lock Horns Over Brexit Impact on Sheep Industry

17 May 2016

UK - Sheep farming and the British lamb industry would be under threat if the UK left the European Union, Environment Secretary Elizabeth Truss has warned, but Food and Farming Minister George Eustice believes sheep farmers would be better off voting to leave.

Ahead of a visit to meet Cumbrian hill farmers, Elizabeth Truss highlighted that outside the EU tariffs could add an additional £155 million to the cost of lamb and mutton exports, making British lamb a less attractive prospect for Europeans compared to New Zealand and Australian competitors.

Ms Truss said: "The single market is essential for British lamb - forty per cent of all the lamb reared in the UK goes to Europe. Outside the European Union, farmers could face quotas and tariffs as well as a red tape double whammy of having to follow both UK and EU rules.

"Less trade could result in significant price falls, damaging the incomes of the 10,000 sheep farmers who depend on it.

"This makes a vote to leave the EU a huge leap into the dark for our food and farming industry and threatens the livelihoods of thousands of British farmers.

"Through our EU membership, exporters of lamb and mutton have easy and tariff-free access to the single market of 500 million people. There is also a level playing field between the UK and the EU on common standards on welfare, safety and labelling, which the UK has a say in."

Meanwhile Mr Eustice, at a meeting with the National Sheep Association in London last week, was optimistic about the prospects for farming outside the EU.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, said: “As an open and firm supporter of the UK leaving the EU, Mr Eustice made clear a plethora of opportunities he felt it had to offer, while suggesting it would essentially be a blank canvass for future financial support and trade activity.

"He outlined a number of practical options for alternative support payment structures, and was particularly keen to abolish the ‘chaos of an annual application’ as he described current protocol. Mr Eustice was also optimistic that a mutual reliance on imports and exports between the UK and other European countries would allow trade to continue.”

Mr Stocker continued: “It was encouraging to hear Mr Eustice echo NSA’s frustrations on the increasing amount of red tape and regulation farmers are up against, and his promise appears to be that if we exit the EU we can drastically reduce this while still demonstrating equivalence with EU regulations for trade.”

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