Ministers need to stop misleading the public over the impact of a hard Brexit, Unite has said, after transport secretary Chris Grayling claimed farmers could simply grow more food if the UK crashes out of the EU and prices rocket.
In comments reminiscent of Second World War “Dig for Victory” propaganda, Brexiteer Grayling said if food prices rise due to the UK falling on devastating WTO rules the country could just increase its domestic yields and buy more produce from around the world.
He told the BBC, “What that would mean would be that supermarkets bought more from home, that British farmers grew more and that they bought more from around the world.”
The National Farmers’ Union said Grayling was “out of touch with farmers”, while the British Summer Fruits association dismissed his comments as “tripe”.
Unite national officer for food, drink and agriculture (FDA) Julia Long said Grayling was essentially lying to the public about the damage a hard Brexit will do to the country’s farming sector.
She said, “I’m flabbergasted at his comments. Farmers are saying they won’t have enough people to work for them, let alone be able to grow more food. There are already major labour shortages and we haven’t even left the EU yet.
“Ministers have to stop making these kind of claims because people start believing them and they’re absolute rubbish. They’ve got to start being honest about what could happen.”
Long added, “A hard Brexit would be incredibly damaging to the UK’s farming sector and food security. Crashing out with no deal and landing on WTO tariffs means you’re looking at domestic price rises and increasing labour shortages as well as a sharp drop in exports to the EU – which accounts for two thirds of the sector’s overseas sales.”
Grayling’s suggestion that the UK could just buy more food from “around the world” in the event of a hard Brexit was also criticised by the union.
Chair of Unite’s FDA national committee Steven Leniec pointed to lobbying by US farmers to open up UK markets after Brexit to produce banned in Europe.
He said, “Tory Brexiteers bang on about the potential for importing cheaper food after we leave the EU, but what they don’t mention is the lower standards used to make such food less expensive.
“Do we really want to see chlorinated chicken, hormone treated beef and genetically modified crops from the US here in Britain? Not only would it restrict trade with Europe, but it could also force UK farmers to lower their standards to compete.”
Labour’s shadow Brexit minister Jenny Chapman said Grayling’s comments were symptomatic of the government’s utter lack of preparedness and confusion over Brexit.
She said, “This is yet another example of the Tories’ chaotic approach to the Brexit negotiations. Rather than planning for no deal, ministers appear to be telling us to dig for no deal.
“British farmers already work incredibly hard and to suggest that they could simply grow more food is ridiculous.”
Chapman added, “The truth is the biggest threat to Britain crashing out of Europe with no deal is Tory infighting. Ministers should stop fighting amongst themselves and start putting the national interest first.
“That means avoiding a cliff edge for our economy and agreeing strong transitional arrangements within the single market and a customs union.”