Polly Toynbee tells us that a Brexit to full on free trade would be the death of the current system of British farming. She’s entirely right, it would be. She also tells us that this wasn’t how Brexit was sold – which is her error. For this is exactly how it was sold. I do in fact know this, I was one of the people doing the selling. And I’ve been shouting for well over a decade now that a major benefit of Brexit would be that we could repeal our modern day Corn Laws and all enjoy substantially cheaper food.
In short, Leave the EU in order to bugger the farmers.
This isn’t an error or a side effect, it’s the point. Which is why this is wrong:
Now there are varying views available on all this. Patrick Minford, the Brexiteers’ favoured economist, wants shops flooded with cheap imports floating free on global commodities markets, unfettered by regulatory checks, with no tariffs or protection for home produce. Cheap food, promised by Jacob Rees-Mogg, will please consumers and Minford is sanguine about farmers, fishers and most British manufacturers going to the wall. That’s a price worth paying, a valid trade-off for market extremists, who are careless about food security, happy for us to grow nothing ourselves, leaving us wholly dependent on world markets. Minfordites are untouched by the romance of farming or the pull of manufacturing – shrugging them off as relatively small parts of the economy. Finance and services are the only future.
But that was not the vision sold to the public by Brexiteers at the 2016 referendum. If it was their secret ideology, it was kept hidden from voters who backed Brexit.
It wasn’t a secret. Minford wrote and published a whole damn book on the point. People like me went around going “Good, yes, that’ll work!” as we contemplated British farming righteously going bust.
We’ve not kept any of this quiet Polly, this is part of the point of the entire exercise. To do a New Zealand on the farmers’ arses.