The Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that leaving the European Union (EU) would cost the British farming industry £330 million. Yet Britain currently pays ten times that figure to subsidise its European farming competitors, meaning the government could easily cover the cost.
Mr Cameron’s latest bid to scare the British people into voting to remain within the European Union was delivered today at a farm in Wales, where he warned: “British agriculture, British farmers and British jobs could suffer enormously if we were to leave the single market.”
According to Mr Cameron, some 90 per cent of British lamb and beef exports, worth around £605 million, are currently exported to the EU, the Guardian has reported. He insists that that trade could be jeopardised by a vote to leave.
“If we left this single market and, as some suggest, relied on World Trade Organisation rules, the extra costs of exporting British beef would be £240m a year. An extra £90m would be added to the cost of British lamb exports,” he said.
“British farmers and food producers rely on the single market. It gives them access to 500 million consumers, to whom they can sell their goods on an open, unrestricted basis. No tariffs, no barriers, no bogus health and safety rules designed to keep our products out.”
Economists have already dismissed the idea that quitting our membership of the EU would necessarily result in trade barriers being raised by other member states.
Bloomberg Business today reported that Britain’s goods trade deficit with the rest of the EU is at an all-time high, with the Office of National Statistics showing an 8.1 billion pound deficit in January, and 23 billion pounds over the past three months. Both figures are the highest since the data began in 1998.
Campaigners for a British exit regularly point out that the rest of the EU has much more to lose from raising trade barriers than the UK does.
Furthermore, a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs published last year found that even in the “worst case scenario” whereby Britain failed to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU, “both parties would be bound by the WTO’s ‘most favoured nation’ tariffs paid by other developed countries, which would prevent the imposition of punitive tariffs by the EU.”
Yet even laying these solutions aside, Mr Cameron’s claim is a spurious one as the solution lies within his hands. By leaving the EU, Britain would no longer be called upon to pay into the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy – a bureaucratic device that first caused massive over production across Europe leading to wine lakes and butter mountains, and now pays farmers not to farm through “set aside” payments. The policy swallows up an astonishing 40 per cent of the EU’s total budget each year – more than €55 billion in 2013.
The government would then be free to spend some of the money saved on subsidising Britain’s farming industry.
As Nigel Farndale, writing for the Spectator notes: “Just to continue paying farmers the same subsidy as they are getting now would cost the British taxpayer half as much, because, at present, we pay £6 billion a year into the CAP, but our farmers get only £3 billion back. British farmers are effectively subsidising their competitors: the French, by far the biggest beneficiary of the CAP, receive three times as much.