The Brexit View from Brussels - 24 October 2019

I am speaking at the NFUS Autumn conference tomorrow morning (Friday 25 October) about Brexit.  It’s scary! But it is nearly Halloween after all writes Maeve Whyte, Director of the UK Farming Union’s office in Brussels.  

I had started preparing my presentation last week but another ‘momentous’ week in Brussels (and Westminster) required that I start from scratch again.  

We all know that 2019 has been a year of political upheaval in the UK but it has also been a year of huge political change in Brussels. 

We had the European elections in May where the traditional ruling parties just about hung on to their leading positions as right wing groups, while the liberals and the greens surged in numbers.  

The familiar faces of Jean Claude Juncker (European Commission President) and Donald Tusk (European Council President) will be replaced by the end of the year by ex-German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel respectively. The commissioners are changing too – the Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan will give way to Polish Janusz Wojciechowski will who will take the lead on CAP, while the Irishman moves down the corridor into the high-profile role of Trade commissioner. 

But why should we care?

The simple truth is that what happens in Europe and the politics and policy priorities of the people in the EU will impact on us in the UK.  

If we avoid a no deal situation and the current Brexit deal sees the light of day, we will have a transition period until December 2020. There is also the option to extend this transition period another two years. 

During that time, we are subject to existing EU law and any new EU rules will also apply. Add to this the fact that EU rules may still have to be respected in any future trade deal with the EU, it makes it even more important that we remain engaged and try to influence decisions made in Brussels. 

Deal or no deal I believe that it makes complete sense for us to remain as connected as possible in Brussels. We have spent over 40 years building up a food and farming network that has been massively helpful in our lobbying effort. 

Our farming neighbours face exactly the same challenges as us on issues such as climate change, animal health, science and innovation and it just makes political and financial sense to continue to try to find solutions together.  

Knowing what works and what doesn’t in other countries will also be vital information in discussions with our own politicians as they develop future food and farming policy in all parts of the UK.

In the current climate no presentation would be complete without a section on trade. Speaking at the NFUS Autumn conference, I would love to give a clear picture of how future trade negotiations between the EU and UK might evolve but I doubt anyone can make accurate predictions on that at the moment. 

What we do know is that the team lined up on the EU side is formidable. Michel Barnier will continue leading on Brexit issues in the new ‘Task Force UK’ and with Commissioner Hogan at the helm on Trade there will be no shortage of political clout. 

Commissioner Hogan will also bring some of his agriculture experts into his new team and he will be very ably supported by the Director General of the Trade unit, Ms Sabine Weyand.  Her previous role was deputy director in the EU Brexit Taskforce, and she is widely regarded as the brains behind the whole operation. 

Together, Barnier, Hogan and Weyland make an impressive European team to lead trade negotiations.


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