‘Urgent action needed to protect the UK sheep industry’

With warnings of an ‘inevitability’ the UK will exit the EU without a deal on October 31, and talk of the PM ‘turbocharging’ preparations, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is calling for extreme intervention to protect the future of the British sheep industry.

The NSA has repeatedly expressed its concern at the serious damage a no-deal scenario would cause the sheep sector. High volumes of UK lamb are currently exported to the EU, which accounts for 96% of lamb exports.

Phil Stocker, NSA chief executive, said: “The NSA has repeatedly called for a no-deal or disorderly Brexit to be avoided at all costs and we are hugely alarmed by the rhetoric of Boris Johnson and his new cabinet in recent days – even though this may be part of a negotiating tactic.

Such a scenario would be disastrous for our industry at any time, but late October is when a huge peak of UK lamb will be reaching the market.

“If in the event of a no-deal Brexit we lose EU access for UK sheepmeat, even for a few months, then a plan is needed now to ensure farming and supply-chain businesses do not go under – that capacity and confidence is maintained so we can still operate once market access is restored – and that the disruption is as short-lived as possible.

Tariff relief

“There are a number of steps that are immediately essential and cannot be put off until October. In the event of an acrimonious ‘no-deal’, we could still be in a position where access to the EU is entirely closed.

“If not, then tariff relief is our preferred option to keep the market functioning.

The NSA also believes steps must be taken to temporarily close the UK to sheepmeat imports while we are unable to export, and focus on getting all our production into our own domestic markets.

“This will not be easy given the huge volumes of lamb that are usually exported, but if plans are put in place now to invest in cold storage capacity, then, using public procurement markets such as the armed forces, schools and hospitals, we can make the most of what would otherwise be a catastrophe.

“What absolutely must not be allowed to happen is a mass cull of lambs with no attempt to get them into the food chain.

“This would be an obscene waste and would have future capacity impacts for our sector. It can be avoided if the right steps are taken now.”