Agriculture and the Brexit Debate

Source: Ph. (Phil) Hogan i, published on Friday, May 20 2016.

Earlier this year I received invitations to speak in all four regions of the UK, with a view to contributing to the national debate ahead of the EU membership referendum on June 23.

I was pleased to accept these invitations, because I believe that the "Brexit" debate as it relates to agriculture and the CAP is one worth having. My colleagues and I will of course not be advising British citizens how to vote, although the Commission has formally stated its sincere wish that the UK remains in the EU.

My only contribution in attending these events and debates is to set out the facts regarding the EU's relationship with the UK, particularly within my own portfolio of agriculture and rural development.

Last week I spoke in Northern Ireland and Wales, and this week I spoke in England and Scotland. These were very useful, open and frank exchanges, attended by farmers and farmer representatives, policymakers and rural dwellers. These are people who quite rightly want to arm themselves with the facts ahead of the referendum.

The Commission's point of view, which I was very pleased to convey, is that UK farmers are better off within the CAP, and that being a member of the EU strengthens UK agri-trade and food security.

When it comes to farmers' incomes, the CAP provides a vital stability and certainty, allowing farmers and agri-food operators to plan for the future with greater confidence. Would a UK-only agricultural policy be able to match this stability for as long a budget period?

Some published plans describe a post-Brexit British Agricultural Policy of £2 Bn per year - this would be a third less than the £3bn received from the CAP this year, and indeed every year up to 2020.

Secondly, the question of trade is critical, particularly for a leading trading nation like the UK. The EU is the world’s largest agricultural trader, with exports exceeding €129 billion in 2015. Figures for increase since x

The market for EU produce has continued to expand over the past few years and will continue to do so in the future. Thanks to the EU, UK farmers now have access to over 53 trade agreements, which allow for agri-produce to be exported and imported without any red tape.

Size and strength matter when one sits down to negotiate trade deals. How would the UK with a population of 64 million fare in negotiating with countries like China, with a population of 1.3 billion?

In the EU it punches at a weight of 500 million, almost twice the size of the US. It could take the UK years to negotiate deals with Korea, Canada and so on - deals the EU has already successfully negotiated.

I welcome debate on these subjects, because as well as informing the Brexit debate it clarifies my thinking as to how we can continue to improve the CAP for EU farmers and European society alike.

I am working hard to make the CAP simpler and more dynamic, and I made a strong case to the ambitious British farmers I met that the policy is changing for the better, with less bureaucracy and more opportunities for trade.

Many thanks to my hosts in the UK for their warm welcome, and their strong commitment to open and democratic debate.


With the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Elizabeth Truss


Meeting with the First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon


Visiting the Dandie family farm in Broxburn, Scotland