The meetings were scheduled to take place prior to the NFU Council meeting on Monday. If the intention was to consult farmers, we could assume the principle speaker would have put both sides of the argument evenly and without bias.
However, NFU Deputy Director General Martin Howorth, concentrated his presentation purely on the findings of a study carried out by the research institute from the Netherlands, the LEI Wageningen UR, which had been commissioned by the NFU.
As Martin Haworth and indeed Meurig Raymond, President of the NFU, pointed out in his Foreword to the paper, “Ultimately, economic models make predictions based on assumptions”. It is worth reminding ourselves that assumptions are not facts.
The study did show that if we left the EU there could well be a favourable outcome for farmers, but the line taken by the speaker suggested that the only outcome would be a serious risk to farm income. This was based on the ‘assumption’ that the UK government would not continue to support British farmers, and the remaining members of the European Union would not wish to trade with the UK, despite the economics leaning heavily in their favour to do so.
Mr Howarth’s prediction was that we would probably all go to hell and damnation in a hand cart if we leave! As the President stated, it comes down to a matter of judgement as to which of the two scenarios appears most likely.
The audience were subjected to a bombardment of facts and figures which leaned heavily towards trying to persuade us that we should vote to remain, on 23rd June.
There was plenty of time to ask questions, but it rapidly became clear that anyone asking a question who expressed the merest hint of leaning towards voting OUT, were dismissed as not worthy of a reply, and those showing a leaning towards remaining IN were warmly praised for joining in the debate.
It was interesting that throughout the presentation both Norway and Switzerland were used as examples of non EU members who traded with the EU but to their disadvantage, because as non-members they have no influence, but must comply with EU regulations. Norway does pay a small tariff, and Switzerland does not.
Why these two countries were repeatedly portrayed as miserable poor cousins outside the European Union is a mystery. Norway is the richest country in the world, followed closely by Switzerland. They trade with whom they choose, live by their own laws, have full control over who they allow to cross their borders, and it is certain would never in a month of Sundays consider becoming a member of the European Union. Would we vote to join now if we too were non-members? Of course not.
There have been times over the years when the NFU has failed to show leadership, or be seen to question and demand action from the government of the day. Regarding the referendum, I believe it should remain neutral and not take sides. However, now is the time to press the government to disclose a Plan B. It is not good enough for Secretary of State Liz Truss to say there is not one.
The NFU has decided not to actively campaign in the referendum, it recognises the diversity of views amongst its members. However, the Council has issued a statement saying, “On balance of existing evidence, the interest of farmers are best served by our continuing membership of the European Union.”
I hope they will stop peddling pro-European propaganda, and Mr Howorth who is due to retire as Deputy Director General, will now be handed his P45.