The House of Commons is now half way through the current stage of the EU Withdrawal Bill and it does continue to dominate proceedings here, touching on so many different policy areas. Recent headlines have been dominated by the issue of the Irish border at which, put simply, the EU will end and the UK will begin. However, there are many advantages to the Irish economy in keeping the border as unobtrusive as possible. Any deal offered to us has to be agreed by every member state and, of course, this includes the Republic of Ireland.
As with all these things though, to find a reasonable answer we need to look at the detail and I am grateful to local NFU representatives for their time last week. Agriculture is one of the key areas where we need to make sure the regulatory set up helps our own industry, promotes continuity and allows easy and reasonably frictionless trade. I should declare an interest here; my grandfather was a farmer, involved in fruit, dairy and sugar cane at different times. One way to make the Irish border operate with as little disruption as possible is to keep regulations between the EU and the UK similar so that goods can pass freely with standards and processes for their assessment mutually recognised.
Concerns have been raised about the lack of migrant workforce after Brexit and this is one of the areas in which we need to work with the industry to find solutions. However, it is not a straightforward as it seems as there are shortages of agricultural workers across the EU. It is hard work, there is no doubt about that. The national number of young people taking on Saturday jobs though has fallen over the years which I think is a shame. The benefits are not so much about the actual work but the responsibility of having a job and the reward of earning your own money. I also think that some basic skills on managing money should be something that schools play a part in teaching. We need to properly understand the facts behind the change in working habits before we can look at ways to help the farmers.
The use of pesticides on crops is almost a microcosm of the whole EU debate. Again, it is not a straightforward issue. Numbers of pollinators including bees have fallen over the years and that is a problem for our environment and food chain. However, their usage can allow more effective crop growth and the science is not totally clear. Michael Gove has recently announced his support for a ban on neonicotinoids but farmers need to be given effective alternative options and joined-up strategy is necessary. Crucially though, control of these chemical is currently at EU level and what is good for our industry may not be so elsewhere in the world. We will soon have the opportunity to find the solutions to these issues which best suit the UK and we should relish that challenge.
As always, if you would like to get in touch about these issues, or to book an appointment at one of my regular advice surgeries please call my office on 01935314321 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.