The Conservative MP is facing fierce criticism from Liberal Democrats MEP and grain farmer Phil Bennion who said Brexit would deal a “triple whammy” blow to agricultural sectors and open up the UK market to “all and sundry”, putting British jobs at risk. Mr Paterson, a former Secretary of state for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said the UK could accept “the latest technologies – from gene editing to robotics” once it breaks ties with the EU, which he branded “the museum of farming”.
But Dr Sean Rickard, former chief economist of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said it was “complete rubbish” to suggest Brussels had tied Britain’s hands when it comes developing and using pioneering farming methods.
Dr Rickard, spokesman for Farmers for a People’s Vote, told Express.co.uk: “There may be opportunities for many parts of the economy after Brexit but agriculture is certainly not one of them.
“It is complete rubbish to suggest that Europe is holding us back or putting limitations on our ability to sell high quality food products to the rest of the world.
“Farmers are very vulnerable to no deal. If I was brutally honest, I don’t think people fully understand the implications of what no deal will mean.
Farmers fear the effects of a no deal Brexit which Boris Johnson refuses to rule out
Dr Rickard pictured with farmers outside Whitehall during a protest
“It is not just the chaos for a few days, it’s the long-term consequences.
“I think it’s pie in the sky to suggest standards will be maintained. If we crash out of Europe the Government will be desperate to do a deal with America and the Americans’ bottom line will be that we will have to accept their standards.”
Dr Rickard said he believes many pro-Brexit supports appreciate the risks posed to farmers by a no deal Brexit but still want to see Boris Johnson push ahead with a hard exit because they consider it a “fair trade off” for the UK regaining control.
Mr Paterson said the UK would have the opportunity to go its own way after Brexit
Last week he joined farmers and sheep in an anti-Brexit demonstration outside Whitehall to draw attention to the threat facing the industry.
He fears many farmers in the UK will be “squeezed” out of business if the Johnson administration fails to address their concerns.
In his report for Farmers for a People’s Vote, a newly-launched offshoot of the campaign for a second EU referendum, Dr Rickard warned a hard exit would lead to the “decimation” of farming in the UK.
He said after October 31, Britain’s farmers and food producers would no longer benefit from the “unfettered export opportunities to many of the world’s richest consumers in the EU and beyond”.
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Mr Bennion, on the other hand, took aim at Mr Paterson’s claims that British farmers could “boost their productivity” upon release from the “precautionary constraints” of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Set up in 1957, the CAP directly supports farmers’ incomes but critics argue it is outdated and does not do enough to address climate change.
Mr Bennion, MEP for West Midlands, last week co-chaired a meeting of farmers in the Staffordshire town of Leek where he met many who were “quite worried” about their future.
He told Express.co.uk: “There was despondency of a no deal Brexit. There was not any sort of feeling that we are gleefully looking forward to the benefits. I don’t know what the massive benefits are.
The possibility of a no deal Brexit is rising as Boris Johnson prepares to crash out of the bloc
“It was a very broad selection that we had. We talked about Brexit and what I call the triple whammy of loss of export markets, losing our payments and then we could risk having our markets open up to all and sundry.
“The basic payment scheme that we have with the CAP directly supports farmers’ incomes. Whatever sector you’re in it’s going to be difficult.”
Mr Bennion, who was joined at the gathering by Green Party MEP Ellie Chowns, said farmers told him they would not stand by and watch the UK’s animal welfare standards chipped away at to suit foreign markets.
He said: “One dairy farmer was saying he didn’t want to take on markets where they are using five times as much antibiotics as we do.
Mr Johnson has vowed to take the UK out of the EU on October 31 with or without a deal
Owen Paterson said Brexit would enable the UK to usher in a new and improved farming model
“He does not want that and there’s no will in the country to do that.”
Mr Paterson, an ERG member, earlier this month wrote in the Daily Telegraph about his hopes for a new and improved farming model for post-Brexit Britain.
The no-deal supporter said “the demise of the Withdrawal Agreement represents a huge opportunity for the UK’s farmers” and Britain would have a “great chance” to embrace new markets and innovations after it leaves the EU.