CEO's Blog - 19 June 2017

From my window at the Rural Centre I can see that the Royal Highland Show ground has once again been transformed for the Highland Show which starts on Thursday writes Chief Executive Scott Walker.  

What was largely bare land is now filled with marquees, vehicles and farm equipment.  From this Thursday, through until Sunday evening, around 200,000 people are expected to attend.  

Last year’s show co-coincided with the referendum to leave the European Union.  On the Thursday, the first day of the show, there was much speculation on what would be the outcome of the vote.  On the Friday, we knew and 51.9% of people voted to leave.  

The question many people asked on Friday 24 June 2016 - almost a year ago - was what would this now mean.  A year on, and there is still no clarity on what impact the decision to leave the European Union will have on farming.  Neither has there been any real discussion by the politicians on the trade-offs that will inevitably have to be made during the leaving discussions.

EU leaders have unanimously backed and set out their guiding principles for the negotiations.  The UK, in its letter to the European Commission, set out its principles for the discussions.  And today marks the opening of the negotiations between the EU and the UK on the withdrawal of the UK from the European Union.  

Michel Barnier, the European Commission's Chief Negotiator, and David Davis, UK Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union have sat down across from each other.  They will first agree the terms of the ‘divorce’ and then the future trading arrangements between the EU and the UK.

A year on, and the effects of this monumental decision have not yet been felt by the farming, food and drinks industry.  The pound has weakened, which has given a lift to most prices, but in terms of trade and regulations we remain part of the European Union for the time being.  Both sides have set out some principles but this doesn’t give us any clarity on how things will look and operate once we leave.  
There is now 16 months of talks ahead.  The aim is to end those talks by October 2018 and then for the UK to leave the European Union in March 2019.

Our engagement with Government has been good but little detail has emerged from them that enables farmers and crofters to plan.  But politicians and civil servants have been willing to listen to what it is that the farming industry needs.  

Last week, I met with a representative from the European Commission’s Brexit taskforce who is dealing specifically with agricultural matters.  We will continue to have discussions with the European Commission’s Brexit taskforce through the negotiations.

I am sure that we will continue to hear many soundbites during the months of negotiations ahead.  But now soundbites need to be put aside, statements such as no deal is better than a bad deal, must be dropped and the real impact of decisions explained.  

It is important that our Government works collegiately across the political spectrum, with industry and with the UK farming Union’s.  The emphasis of the Brexit negotiations must be on the economic considerations.  Change is inevitable, but change must be managed not chaotic.

Author: Scott Walker

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About The Author

Scott Walker

Scott Walker became Chief Executive of NFU Scotland in August 2011. He was previously Policy Director at NFU Scotland, a position to which he was appointed in 2004. He is a member of the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board representing employers' interests. He is a member of Scotland Food & Drink executive group. He is a member of the National Project Assessment Committee for the Scottish Government Food Processing Marketing and Co-operation Grant Scheme.

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