Alun Cairns accused of 'risking the livelihoods of farmers'

Alun Cairns voted to remain in the EU referendum three years ago (Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Shutterstock)
Alun Cairns voted to remain in the EU referendum three years ago (Photo: Wiktor Szymanowicz/Shutterstock)

Alun Cairns has been criticised after he suggested that British sheep farmers could export their meat to Japan rather than Europe after Brexit.

The Secretary of State for Wales admitted that farmers have benefited from having access to EU markets but said there was potential for reaching new markets.

Responding to the possibility of 'civil unrest' once the UK leaves the EU, he said that farmers could export their meat to Japan rather than Europe.

“I would say we are working to get a deal and the European market is important to us but there are markets around the world,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.



“The context is that Wales has voted to leave the EU… we have an obligation to leave and of course we would much prefer to leave with a deal.”

Japan has recently opened its market to British lamb. However, estimates suggest that this trade agreement is small compared to present lamb exports to the EU.



The deal could be worth approximately £52m over the first five years of access - about £10.4m per year, according to the government.

But the NFU says current UK lamb exports to the EU are worth £389m per year.

High volumes of UK lamb are currently exported to the bloc, some 96% of the total export market.

'Risking the livelihoods of sheep farmers'

Molly Scott Cato, an MEP who represents hundreds of sheep farmers in her constituency of South West England, said Mr Cairns is spreading 'disinformation' about exports.

“The minister is either misrepresenting or misunderstanding the situation and thereby risking the livelihoods of sheep farmers in Wales and the South West.

“He admits that the 40% tariffs that will follow a no-deal exit from the EU will decimate lamb exports to the EU but suggests that a new market has just opened up in Japan.”



She added: “This market is only tariff-free because of an EU trade deal between the EU and Japan (JEFTA), a deal that we will no longer be part of outside the EU.

“This indication of a fundamental failure to understand the trade situation facing our farmers - or a deliberate attempt to mislead - indicates the contempt for our farming industry shown by this government.”

It follows a call made by the National Sheep Association for plans to be put in place to 'protect the future of the industry' as farmers fear a no-deal Brexit.