A BAD Brexit could lay waste to half the British farming industry, according to the former chief economist of the NFU.

During the launch of a new group – Farmers for a People’s Vote – in London last week, Dr Sean Rickard warned a no-deal exit could put more than half our farms out of business.

The launch began with a small flock of sheep being herded past Government buildings to highlight visually the risk Brexit presented to livestock.

Dr Richard said: “The campaign to leave the EU was based on the idea that the UK would quickly secure a comprehensive new trading relationship with Europe and that leaving would have only positive impacts on UK farming.

“But today the reality looks very different. Boris Johnson has made it very clear that his over-riding priority as prime minister is to take the UK out of the EU by October 31, if necessary with No Deal, no matter what the cost to the country’s economy and security.

“Many industries will suffer, but the industry that would suffer the most serious economic shock will be agriculture.”

It was impossible to project the exact number of farmers who would go out of business, he said, but it was already known that more than 40 per cent would have no net income if the Basic Payment was removed. The current level of exports to the EU would stop, deterred by regulatory barriers and tariffs on the order of 27 per cent on chickens, 46 per cent on lamb and 65 per cent on beef.

That would be compounded by the UK government’s reduction of tariffs on imported produce in compliance with WTO trade rules – Britain must let in food from all over the world on equal tariffs and terms.

That would depress the price of British produce, said Dr Rickard. “These two factors combined will render over 50 per cent of farms in this country unviable.

“The possibility of any compensation from the government going anywhere near offsetting this is remote, because so many promises have been made to so many other sectors not all can be fulfilled.

“British farmers will be caught between increased competition from third countries importing produce to the UK, and increased difficulty and cost when exporting to our biggest market, the EU. Free Trade Agreements to reduce those barriers will take many years to negotiate.”