UK food security and sustainability after Brexit

David Burrows weighs up the options for the UK’s agricultural sector following Brexit.

It’s impossible not to think about food when talking about Brexit. “50% of our trade is with the EU.  We are bang next to it and it’s big and it’s very rich. If there’s no trade deal, we are really going to be in trouble,” says Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Some feel that’s putting it mildly. “A food system which has an estimated three-to-five days of stocks cannot just walk away from the EU, which provides us with 31% of our food. Anyone who thinks that this will be simple is ill-informed,” says Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University London. 

Nevertheless, this is the impression that some government ministers are giving. George Eustice, the farming minister, claims the sector will be fine even if there is no trade deal and the UK is hit with hefty World Trade Organisation tariffs. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary and Brexiteer, suggests: “We will grow more [food] here and buy more from around the world.”

Let’s consider those two suggestions. Importing more is a long-standing yet quietly muttered Conservative party policy. But all those imports come with a lot of ...

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