Starter’s gun fired on EU membership debate

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The starter’s gun has been fired on the referendum that will decide the UK’s future place in Europe.

With the in/out vote on EU membership vote now set for Thursday 23 June – a date that coincides with the opening day of the Royal Highland Show – the Union looks forward to a full and frank discussion on what the implications are for Scotland’s crucial food and farming sectors.

NFU Scotland currently believes that, for farm businesses, the overall benefits of staying in the European Union (EU) currently outweigh any advantages businesses would gain from leaving the EU. That point was made when NFUS gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament’s European and External Relations Committee in December 2015.

The conditions under which Scottish farmers and crofters would operate in the event of an EU exit are unknown, but the Union hopes that with a referendum date now in the diary, clarity can be given on the terms of access to European and overseas Market and the level of domestic agricultural support to be expected were the UK to vote to leave.

NFU Scotland’s Parliamentary Officer Clare Slipper said: “Now that a date is in the diary, we look forward to a constructive and informed debate from both sides.

“Farmers have a long-established appreciation of what EU membership brings in terms of public support through Europe’s Common Agricultural Policy and market access for our produce. However, the coming weeks must establish what the contingency plans are for Scottish and UK agriculture if we were to leave the EU.

“Farmers would prefer to farm without the financial support they receive from the EU, but the reality is that the marketplace is failing to deliver fair returns and the CAP – set up to deliver food security, environmental and economic benefits – has become more vital to all European farmers in the current volatile times. In the event of ‘Brexit’, what level of support could farmers and crofters expect domestically?

“Access to the European single market, which allows tariff-free trade amongst all member states and European trade agreements opened with international partners in recent years are also of great importance to Scotland’s food and drink industry, which had an export value of £5.1 billion in 2014.

“For farmers to vote to leave the European Union, they need to know what the trading arrangements with the rest of Europe would be – would Scotland be able to continue to trade tariff-free with Europe or would our lamb, beef and other key farm exports face a tariff barrier? Would access to important overseas markets remain or would the UK have to start over again in negotiations?

“In the coming weeks, NFU Scotland will facilitate the debate on behalf of our members as we tease out these important issues.

“We need Scottish farmers to make their views known. However, the vote will be held on Thursday 23 June, the opening day of the Highland Show at Ingliston and Scotland’s biggest food and farming showcase. For those planning to head to the Highland, we urge them to consider setting up a postal vote.”