Farmers tell new PM 'picture is bleak for sheep farming'

The sheep sector says the 'picture is bleak' if Boris Johnson goes ahead toward a no-deal departure from the EU
The sheep sector says the 'picture is bleak' if Boris Johnson goes ahead toward a no-deal departure from the EU

Sheep farmers have told the new Prime Minister that the 'picture is bleak' for the sector if a 'hard or disorderly' Brexit happens.

Boris Johnson will officially form his new government today (24 July) after he was elected leader of the Conservative Party, beating his rival Jeremy Hunt.

His stances on farming and rural issues have been cast in the spotlight following confirmation of the news on Tuesday.

An ardent campaigner to leave the European Union in 2016, his calls to leave the bloc 'come what may' by October 31 has stirred concerns of a no-deal Brexit.

Johnson has been urged by the National Sheep Association (NSA) to focus on 'stability' in any new policy rather than 'playing populist politics'.

Sheep farmers fear an abrupt exit from the EU would result in major trade disruption with inadequate time to put in place alternative options.

NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said: “Britain needs stability and a framework that avoids business disruption, with serious consideration of sectors like the sheep industry that we know are particularly vulnerable.

“The picture is bleak for British sheep farming if Mr Johnson refuses to avoid a hard or disorderly departure from the EU.”

WTO Brexit would 'cripple trade'

The group has been calling for a contingency plan to be put in place for some time, but is picking up its urgency in light of Boris Johnson’s willingness for a no-deal Brexit.

The UK sheep sector currently exports some 35% of sheepmeat, with around 96% of that going to EU markets.

Mr Stocker said leaving without a deal and ending up with a WTO Brexit would 'cripple trade'.

“To suddenly add a tariff of 40-50% of value will make trade to the EU unworkable without severe price collapses that the industry cannot carry.

“Promises of a rescue package once things have gone wrong are the wrong approach – what is needed is a strategic package of measures to avoid collapse in the first place.

“I urge Mr Johnson to prioritise an orderly Brexit that gives continuity with trade, and the formation of a clear strategic plan that negates any breakdown of Britain’s sheep farming industry.”

Farmers are also calling for Johnson to make careful considerations when appointing his new cabinet today.

The NSA said the 'last thing the industry needs' is a change of ministers within Defra, currently headed by Michael Gove.