High ranking politicians nailed their colours to the mast at the Royal Bath & West Show on Wednesday (1 June), with a Brexit debate kicking off proceedings at the CLA breakfast.
Visitors were treated to a head-to-head between Neil Parish MP and Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, concluding with a second bout between Defra minister George Eustice and Rebecca Pow MP. “We face a defining moment in history – it will shape our future and our childrens’ future,” said Tim Breitmeyer, deputy president of the CLA. “On 24 June our destiny will have been decided and we will need immediate reassurance from the government if we do vote out.”
George Eustice admitted it had been extremely difficult to take a different view to the Prime Minister, but insisted that leaving the EU was the right decision. “Big decisions always make people apprehensive but we must not duck the big decisions,” he said.
“Although the Government says it’s got no plan B it does have people like me who’ve done a lot of work,” added Mr Eustice. “I can assure you Defra will be Brexit ready if we vote to leave. And if we do vote for change the Prime Minister will lead the reconciliation to that new reality – the entire machine of government will be committed to withdrawal from the EU in the best possible way.”
However, Neil Parish warned rural voters that the British Government was not as supportive of agriculture as other nations in the EU, and insisted that in the case of a Brexit it would be the treasury making decisions on farm payments, not Defra ministers. “And while we may have problems sometimes with the EU we also have an area where we can trade freely. You don’t walk away from half your trade.”
Mr Parish said it could take years to renegotiate trade agreements, while the Government’s policy for cheap food would likely open the doors to more cheap imports. “There’ll be plenty of open markets, plenty of cheap food and no support: That’s where it’s going.”
In riposte, Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted that trade deals with the EU would be in member states’ interest, given the UK’s £15.3bn trade deficit with the EU in food, beverages and tobacco. And he warned that the future within the EU was far from certain. “The Euro is devastating half the EU’s economies, with unemployment at nearly 50% in some countries – is that the future you want for your children,” he said. “The EU is declining – let’s not remain shackled to it.”
Crucially, the EU was undemocratic, added Mr Rees-Mogg. “The question is: What is my country? Is it Europe, or is it a democratic UK where through our votes we can change our government?”
Arguing for the Remain camp, Rebecca Pow admitted the CAP did need reforming to work better for the British countryside. “There is no all wrong or all right with leave or stay,” she said. “We need to stand up for ourselves more, which we haven’t been doing, but on balance I believe we’re better off in.”
The Royal Bath and West Show takes place from 1-4 June, 2016, at the Bath and West Showground, Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Gate prices are £22 adult, £7 child and £49 family. Visit www.bathandwest.com for more information.