Long-term cold storage and guaranteed public procurement for lamb will be essential for British sheep farmers to survive a 'no-deal' Brexit, the National Sheep Association (NSA) has said.

In response to the Government’s recent ‘technical notices’, the NSA has released its own document outlining the vital and urgent steps needed to protect the UK sheep industry in the event no deal is reached with the EU.

The document sets out the steps it believes need to be taken to enable the country to react to and survive such a period of extreme volatility.

NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “It would be highly damaging to the UK sheep sector if we ease the flow of imports, something the Government has suggested it would do to keep our manufacturing going, at the same time as the EU delays the approval of products destined for its side of the Channel.

If we lose access for UK sheepmeat - even for a few months - and still allow imported lamb to come in then our markets will quickly become flooded and prices will plummet, with farmers feeling the brunt of it.

“NSA believes the only option in that scenario would be to close our doors to sheepmeat imports and focus on getting all our production into our own domestic markets.

"It would give us challenges with seasonality, as lamb production fluctuates at different points in the year but using public procurement markets such as our armed forces, schools and hospitals, and investing in long-term cold storage would allow us to make the most of what would otherwise be a catastrophe.”

International trade

NSA said getting the UK listed as a third country able to trade with the EU will be a "matter of urgency" in a no-deal scenario – but even then, it warned sheepmeat exports into Europe would likely be affected by World Trade Office terms and tariffs.

Expecting wider world markets to absorb what currently goes to the EU in the short to medium term is unrealistic, and the association also says the UK Government must offset tariff costs in order to allow trade to continue to function.

Stocker said: “The Government says it would not pay the £40 billion ‘divorce bill’ if no deal is reached and it is not unreasonable to expect that money to be reinvested to enable industries to continue to operate.

"Food producing industries hardest hit by the failure to secure a deal should be prioritised, as output cannot be turned on and off like a tap.

Ewes are already pregnant with the lambs we may not be able to sell next year; it is too late to stop that product needing a marketplace.

“An immediate investment in building our domestic markets can be viewed as a very positive move and then, as trade allows, we can review rebuilding our exports and trading with other global partners.

"The UK is better placed to grow grass and raise sheep than most other nations around the globe and it would be a travesty if this traditional, yet sustainable and renewable industry was allowed to fall apart because of ill-thought-through disruptions in trade.”