Opinion

‘Guess what, rural businesses are totally unprepared for Brexit – but can’t blame them’

So only 20% of rural businesses across the UK are Brexit-proofed. Or, put another way, 80% aren’t.

These are astonishing figures, given that the rural economy will be hardest hit by any Brexit deal that is finally arrived at between London and Brussels.

As far as agriculture is concerned, the worst of all outcomes will be a ‘no-deal’ scenario.

Under these circumstances, the farming and food businesses that underpin so many rural areas will immediately find themselves facing stringent World Trade Organisation (WTO) tariffs, should they wish to wish to export their produce beyond March 29.

Equally, the communities in these regions tend to vote Conservative, which makes it so surprising that so many Tory Members of Parliament want to vote the Prime Minister’s Brexit agreement down.

We live in very strange times. All the economic predictions published over recent days point to a cataclysmic impact concerning a no-deal Brexit.

Those who oppose Mrs. May’s plans continue to tell us that alternatives do exist. However, we have yet to hear these options fully fleshed out.

For his part, the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker says that the current deal is the only one on the table. No re-negotiation of its fundamental tenets will be considered. And I believe him.

With all the hullaballoo created by the Brexit negotiations, it seems to have been over looked that the EU would never contemplate giving the UK a final deal that puts it in a better trading position with its European neighbours than is currently the case.

After all, if you leave the club and are no longer paying the membership fee, then there have to be consequences.

Let’s not forget that it was London who told Brussels to ‘Foxtrot Oscar.’ And, no doubt, this has been a hard pill for the bureaucrats that drive the entire EU project to swallow.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has been on the road over the past few days, extolling his vision of a UK free from the ‘controlling influence’ of Brussels.

In his speech to the DUP party annual conference in Belfast last Saturday, he twice mentioned the principle of free trade and cheap food for UK consumers…in almost the same breath.

Surely this is a message which UK farmers neither want, nor need, to hear.

But let me come back to the fundamental point made at the top of this piece. Rural businesses across the UK are totally unprepared for Brexit.

What they need is some form of a transition period in order to get their house in order. And, from what I can see, there is only one plan on the table right now offering this option.