Speech to NFU: Why farmers should Vote Leave

Bernard Jenkin

Why Farmers should vote leave


06th April 2016



I will respond to Andrew Clark’s report about BREXIT, later in my remarks.


But I hope it will be of interest to you to hear a bit about


  • the broad question of whether you should vote Remain or Leave;
  • and about the state of the arguments and the respective campaigns;
  • as well as about the particular issue of agriculture.


Because this referendum question is not actually about a lot of detail; yes facts, but big facts.


The bottom line is about the direction of the EU.  Whether this is in your best long-term interests – for your business, for yourself, for your family and friends, for your communities, for the country as a whole.


This direction has been established for decades now, and is less likely to change now than ever, because of what successive governments have already agreed.


I first joined the House of Commons in 1992, when John Major decided to force through the ratification of the Maastricht Treaty.  I was one of 60 or so Conservative MPs who opposed it.


This was when the UK gave up any right to object to the principle that there should be a single European currency, to replace national currencies.  Yes, we had the option to remain outside, but the consensus then was that we would join.  Yes, like the CBI, the NFU thought we should join.  John Major did not even agree that there would have to be a referendum on the UK’s decision to join at that stage.


Maastricht was a critical turning point for the EU. It marks the moment we gave up any effective control over the centralising direction of the EU.  We gave the green light to the majority of the other EU states to forge ahead with the formation of the Euro, whatever the consequences for our own national interests. 


Not only has the Euro proved utterly disastrous for most of the Eurozone economies, with tragic levels of unemployment in many states, particularly for the young; not only has it divided our continent between the rich and the poor, but along with the steady accretion of powers, and the increase in majority voting in the Council of Ministers, this has resulted in a fundamental shift in the balance of power in the EU, so that the 19 Eurozone states now dominate, but most particularly Germany.


People in the UK have tended to underestimate the very serious consequences of this power shift. The PM and the Chancellor originally set out to address this question of the Eurozone “Ins” and “Outs” but they singularly failed to do so.



And have no illusions!  It means if you vote remain, you are not voting for any kind of status quo.  You are voting for more of the same: to continue on the same direction of travel.  You are confirming, ratifying, consenting to this continuing centralising trend, which is hard wired into the treaties and institutions of the EU.


The former Governor of the Bank of England has just published a book: The End of Alchemy, in which he makes three things very clear:


  1. There IS a Eurozone crisis: it has not been cured or gone away.
  2. The Eurozone WILL collapse –
  3. Unless there is a new country called Europe.


The best we can hope for is that we become politically semi-detached, which in many respects we are already, but don’t believe for a moment that staying out of the Euro gives us any legal, political, or economic protection from the consequences of 2. or 3. 


For as long as we remain in the EU of 28, we are but a minority of one. 


What will be the consequences for the UK if we are still an EU member, subject to all its laws and rulings, and forced to contribute to its budget when the Euro does finally collapse? 


Or how much influence will we have if the Eurozone continues its process of merging.  They are already planning the next Treaty, and David Cameron has given up the UK’s right of veto over it.  


You will hear much exaggeration about the uncertainty about the future from leaving the EU, but the truth is that there is uncertainty about the future whatever the outcome – don’t let anyone pretend to you that there is not. 


What will happen when Turkey gains visa free access to the EU for all its 77m citizens?  How will our NHS cope?  Our housing?  Our schools?


And Ukraine has been offered the same.


Those of us arguing for Leave can give you quite a lot of assurances.


To leave the EU is not to leave Europe.  We will still be engaged with our European partners, but on a different basis.


You KNOW that if you vote to leave the EU, the UK will take back control over our own laws, over our own ports of entry, and that the UK will no longer be bound by the principle of free movement.


You know the UK will take back full control over the £350m per week we contribute to the EU budget.


You KNOW that we currently contribute some £19 billion per year to the EU budget, and that we get back barely half of that: in rebate, in farm support, in grants to science and universities and so on. 


So you KNOW – and these are the official figures – that last year, we made a net contribution of just under £10 billion to support our EU competitors.


Since we joined in 1972, the UK has paid a staggering £508 billion into the EU budget.  What was spent in the UK, we could spend better.  The rest would be better spent at home rather than subsidising your competitors abroad.


We can KNOW quite a lot from reports like this NFU commissioned research.


A report like this is only as good as the assumptions upon which it is based, but it is nevertheless most illuminating, and we can cement one or two of those assumptions in place.


Both Vote Leave, and the Minister for Farming, George Eustice, have made clear that we are committed to maintaining at least the same support for farming which it receives from the CAP today.  I can assure you, the Conservatives will be signed up for this.


Who is advocating anything different?


Who in their right mind would use BREXIT as a pretext to cut funding for farming, or for science, or for Universities, or for infrastructure, given that leaving the EU frees up billions we currently contribute in support to the other EU countries?



It is under the CAP that farm payments to the UK have gone DOWN by 30 per cent over the past five years.  As UK pro-EU ministers have admitted, there are no guarantees about how CAP will continue to evolve.  The effect of declining CAP payments is not one of the scenarios the NFU asked the research to consider. 


Of the scenarios offered by your report, we KNOW that a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU is the most preferable option for the UK.  I know of nobody serious who advocates trade liberalisation. Your report shows that we KNOW that the other EU states sell twice as much produce to the UK as we sell to them, so it is in their farmers interests to maintain free trade.  Your report conjectures that the UK may lose preferential trade agreements the EU has made with third countries, but even the Director of the Remain campaign agrees that such agreements with third countries could continue.  Why on earth would S Korea or Canada want to stop them? 


We also KNOW that we could conclude new FTAs with new countries.  We KNOW that FTAs were concluded between the US and Australia in under two years.  We KNOW that the Swiss-China deal took a only little bit longer.


Your report says that you KNOW with either an FTA, or the default WTO trade rules, farm incomes would actually rise.


Whatever short-term uncertainty there may be about precisely what the agreements there would be with the EU in place of our EU membership,  serious threats to the viability of UK farming are a very low risk.


There would be huge opportunities and long-term.


During our EU membership, the proportion of the food we eat which is produced in the UK has steadily declined.  Since UK agriculture is so heavily regulated by the somewhat anti-science attitudes of the EU – remember how they sacked the EU Chief Scientific Adviser over the damaging restrictions on GM technology – UK crop yields have been falling behind comparable countries like the US, Canada and Australia.  Leaving the EU is an opportunity for UK agriculture to recover momentum. Your report does not consider the beneficial effects of the UK taking back control over farming policy and regulation.


And that is the core message about the benefits of leaving.


We will not only regain control over our laws, our borders and our money.  This government has started to try to rebuild our diplomatic representation and trade missions around the world, but we are also having to pay for the EU’s fantastically grand network of so-called Embassies for what they call their External Action Service.  Outside the EU, we will be out in the world with far more freedom, energy and enthusiasm than ever.  Exit from the EU is absolutely not about disengagement and shrinking from the World.  Quite the reverse.


Finally on the campaigns.


First we had the Prime Minister’s renegotiation – and that has now virtually disappeared off the radar.  Whatever the balance of opinion may be about Remain or Leave, according to the polls, the public have already decided that his co-called deal counts for nothing.  And rightly so.  It does nothing to alter the direction of the EU, or the treaties which bind us to it.


The Remain campaign has resorted therefore to a number of stories about how dreadful it will be to leave the EU, for young people, for jobs, for farmers or for scientists – but all based on the most unlikely scenarios – like all farm support would be stopped, or that Universities would be starved of cash or teaching staff without the EU.  This is all just chaff.  Any sensible government will take advantage of the spare money and legal freedoms which come with leaving the EU.


You have to ask yourself: why did the prime minister offer this referendum if the choice is all one way?  Wasn’t that a fantastically irresponsible risk to take with the country, if the consequences of leaving were so bad?  Of course, these are just campaigning positions and therefore not to be taken seriously.


The evidence is that the government’s campaign is not working.  As yet, most voters are sparsely engaged.  The evidence is that those who would vote Leave show a much stronger intention to vote than those who would vote Remain.  Many of the Remainers are soft: they don’t like the EU, and if they can be reassured, they will vote Leave.


The Leave campaign is still the underdog, but the trend is for Leave. 


Thank you very much for this opportunity.