Brexit: agriculture Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Agriculture and food in the UK

1.Primary agricultural production is the first step in a long and integrated agri-food supply chain in the UK and the EU. Across England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales the agricultural sector—from arable crops to dairy, livestock and horticulture—plays an important role in supplying food to UK citizens.1 It also supplies foreign markets, maintains rural communities in the UK and manages the natural environment.2

2.Taken as a whole, the agri-food sector3 accounted for 7.2% of the national Gross Value Added (GVA) in 2014, or £108 billion in total, within which agriculture accounted for £9.9 billion.4 Also in 2014, the agricultural workforce consisted of some 429,000 people,5 and the utilised agricultural area (UAA)6 equalled some 71% of land in the UK.7

3.The food manufacturing industry is also an inherent part of the UK agri-food sector. It accounted for £26.9 billion of GVA in 2014 and employed some 381,000 people.8

Agriculture and Brexit

4.Since the UK’s accession to the European Economic Community in 1973, the EU has had a fundamental impact on UK agriculture through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). The CAP is the system of financial support measures and programmes under which farmers in the UK and the rest of the EU work. The CAP covers areas such as farming, environmental measures and rural development. It also regulates the organisation of EU agricultural markets.9 EU policies also govern the trade arrangements between the UK and the rest of the EU and third parties, and thanks to the free movement of labour, the agri-food sector in the UK employs a high number of EU nationals.

5.In withdrawing from the EU the UK will withdraw from the CAP. Though in the first instance many elements of the CAP may be carried over into domestic law by the Great Repeal Bill,10 Brexit presents the UK with an opportunity to fundamentally review the objectives and design of its long-term agricultural policy. At the same time, the UK agri-food industry trades major volumes of agri-food products, predominately with the EU, under the auspices of the Single Market.11 The Prime Minister intends that the UK will leave the Single Market, but has set out her wish to negotiate in its place a comprehensive free trade agreement and a bespoke customs agreement between the UK and the EU.12

This inquiry

6.This inquiry, one of a series of Brexit-related inquiries conducted by the EU Committee and its six sub-committees since the June 2016 referendum, considers key issues for agriculture and food that the Government will need to address before or immediately after the UK withdraws from the EU. The purpose of this report is to highlight the key challenges and opportunities that Brexit affords those sectors. These relate to the trading arrangements that will govern the UK’s agri-food trade after Brexit, the agricultural regulatory framework, the future of funding for the agricultural sector and access to labour.

7.In its entirety, the agri-food sector ranges from the primary production of agricultural commodities to the catering and retail outlets selling the final processed or unprocessed food to consumers. It is beyond the scope of this report to address the implications of Brexit on that entire supply chain. Instead our emphasis is on the primary production and the agricultural sector that underpins it, considering the associated food manufacturing sector as and when relevant.13

8.We acknowledge that agriculture and the environment are strongly inter-dependent. We address the environment to some extent in this report, particularly with regards to funding in Chapter 5; however, we do not explore future environment policy in detail. We considered the impact of Brexit on environment policy in our report Brexit: environment and climate change.14

9.The EU Energy and Environment Sub-Committee, whose members are listed in Appendix 1, met in January, February and March 2017 to take evidence from the witnesses listed in Appendix 2. The Committee is grateful for their participation in this inquiry. We also thank our Specialist Adviser, Professor Fiona Smith of the University of Warwick.

10.We make this report to the House for debate.


1 The United Kingdom is 61% self-sufficient in all foods. Q 43 (Wesley Aston)

2 Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2015 (2016), p 97: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/557993/AUK–2015–05oct16.pdf [accessed 19 April 2017]

3 This includes agriculture, food manufacturing, food wholesaling, food retailing and food non-residential catering. In this report, we only consider agriculture and food manufacturing.

4 Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2015 (2016), p 97: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/557993/AUK–2015–05oct16.pdf [accessed 19 April 2017]

5 Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2015 (2016), p 97: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/557993/AUK–2015–05oct16.pdf [accessed 19 April 2017]

6 The UAA is made up of arable and horticultural crops, uncropped arable land, common rough grazing, temporary and permanent grassland and land used for outdoor pigs. It does not include woodland and other non-agricultural land. Defra, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2015, (2016), p 10. We do not consider forestry in this report, though we recognise the importance of the sector.

7 Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2015 (2016), p 5: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/557993/AUK–2015–05oct16.pdf [accessed 19 April 2017]

8 This figure includes employees involved in “everything from primary processing (milling, malting, slaughtering to complex prepared foods.” Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2015 (2016), pp 97–8: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/557993/AUK–2015–05oct16.pdf [accessed 19 April 2017]

9 HM Government, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union: Agriculture (2014), p 19: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/335026/agriculture–final–report.pdf [accessed 19 April 2017]

10 In October 2016, Prime Minister the Rt Hon Theresa May MP announced the Government’s intention to introduce a Great Repeal Bill. It will repeal the European Communities Act 1972, which makes EU laws part of the UK legal system, and will convert existing EU law into domestic law, wherever practical. The aim of the Bill is to ensure a “calm and orderly” exit from the EU.

11 Annual exports of food and non-alcoholic drinks (including manufactured goods and processed and unprocessed ingredients) were worth £12.3 billion in 2015. Imports of food and non-alcoholic drinks amounted to £35.1 billion in the same period. Food and Drink Federation (FDF), ‘UK-EU food and drink statistics’: https://www.fdf.org.uk/eureferendum–food–drink–statistics.aspx [accessed 24 April 2017] The broader category of food, feed and drink exports from the UK in 2015 was £18.0 billion, while the value of imports was £38.5 billion in the same year. Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2015, (May 2016), p 84: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/557993/AUK–2015–05oct16.pdf [accessed 20 April 2017].

12 Prime Minister Theresa May, Speech on the Government’s negotiating objectives for exiting the EU, 17 January 2017: https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/the–governments–negotiating–objectives–for–exiting–the–eu–pm–speech [accessed 20 April 2017]

13 Trade in food and beverages were substantively considered in our report Brexit: trade in goods (European Union Committee, Brexit: trade in goods (16th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 129))

14 European Union Committee, Brexit: environment and climate change (12th Report, Session 2016–17, HL Paper 109)




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