Cheaper food AFTER EU exit Consumer boost as experts now say that prices WILL come down

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It slammed the way agricultural productivity is “being constrained by the sheer volume and intrusiveness of regulations” under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy.

The papers were released as Europhile former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg was slammed for predicting “inevitable” price rises on food and drink if the Government opts for “hard Brexit”.

Mr Clegg, who admitted at the weekend that he is plotting to derail Brexit, said grocery bills will have to bear the knock-on costs of “whopping” tariffs on imported foods imposed if the UK leaves the European single market.

But a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs yesterday said Brexit would let the UK avoid the EU’s “costly agricultural regulations” which are likely to make food prices shoot up.

And it said quitting the EU would also make it easier for Britain to buy food from all around the world and bring down our prices more.

The IEA study by former NFU chief economist and Government adviser Sean Rickard described the Common Agricultural policy as the EU’s most expensive at £360billion between 2015 and 2020.

He cited the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as saying that 53 per cent of its regulations come from the EU or international bodies.

He put the cost of complying with EU regulations at £590million a year in England alone – and stressed that this “significantly underestimates” the true cost of regulations.

Mr Rickard said: “CAP is also the EU’s most complex and interventionist programme.

“Regulation, or more precisely ‘social regulation’ defined as protecting public interests such as health, safety and the environment is now the CAP’s most pervasive form of intervention.

“While regulation can serve a positive purpose, there is a growing concern amongst industry participants and academics that EU agri-food regulations have become too burdensome, intrusive and stifling with adverse consequences for productive efficiency and international competitiveness.”

The report criticised “EU-wide command-and-control regulations” which do no have the flexibility to cope with local conditions.

IEA director general Mark Littlewood said: “EU member states face staggering food price rises unless the march of increased regulation is halted. “The UK is fortunate that it now has the opportunity to repatriate control of its farming regulations. 

“It’s crucial that decisions stem from good scientific evidence, and pay attention to consumers’ interests and the potential crippling costs that overregulation can have in pushing up food prices and the cost of living.”

He added: “Brexit holds many opportunities for reducing food prices in the UK. Not only will leaving the Common Agricultural Policy offer tremendous prospects to cut costs for hard-pressed Brits, our new trading options will be substantial. 

“Rather than an arbitrary focus on trade with EU countries, we can look outwards as it becomes much easier to engage with new markets for food across the globe.” 

In a London speech Mr Clegg, now the Lib Dem EU spokesman, claimed that if the UK quit the EU single market in a “hard Brexit” there would be “turmoil” in the food and drink industry.

He predicted a 59 per cent levy on beef, 38 per cent on chocolate, 40 per cent on New Zealand lamb and 14 per cent on Chilean wine.

But UKIP Leadership candidate Bill Etheridge slammed the Remoaners’ scare tactics as a return to the Project Fear campaign of the pro-EU camp during the referendum.

He said claims by pro-EU politicians like Mr Clegg were “a return of the economically illiterate bullying we saw during the referendum campaign”.

He added: “The fact is we have been subsidising artificially high food prices via the Common Agricultural Policy as well as allowing lobbyists to turn this huge area into a regulatory minefield. 

“Brexit can and will lead to lower food prices.

“This will be especially beneficial to people on lower incomes who have to spend a proportionately larger amount of their income on food – despite what the elite London-based politicians would like them to think.

“Once again, Brexit will be a victory for working people over the establishment.”

Meanwhile the pressure group Migration Watch said Brexit is a chance to improve productivity and raise wages for farm workers.

EU rules have seen thousands of workers, mainly from Eastern Europe, take jobs on farms, particularly picking vegetables.

This has depressed wages and deterred many British workers from taking on farm jobs.

But Migration Watch cited a report by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board which said that following restrictions on migration “wages are likely to increase in an attempt to make jobs more attractive to UK nationals”. Working conditions should also be improved.

Migration Watch said that these rising wages could in turn encourage investment in mechanisation which would increase efficiency.

Alp Mehmet, Vice Chairman of Migration Watch UK, said: “The plentiful supply of cheap foreign labour on British farms all but destroys any incentive producers have of becoming more competitive. 

“Brexit offers them a golden opportunity to do something about the sector’s relatively poor levels of productivity. They could start by offering decent wages and improved working conditions.”

The NFU said it had been battling with EU red tape for years.

But it warned that the degree to which regulation was reduced – and the fate of food prices – would depend on the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and trade deals with other nations.

NFU Director of Policy Andrew Clark “Regulation based on emotion and sentiment rather than evidence has been something that farmers have been wrangling with for many years. 

“It’s the reason why the NFU’s role in highlighting the impact of Brussels and Westminster regulation on farm has been so important. 

“Brexit has many unknowns attached to it in terms of regulation, and a lot of it will depend on the trade deals that UK Government negotiates. 

“The EU single market is the UK’s biggest trading partner, and we are calling for access to this unfettered by tariffs and non-tariff barriers. What this access will mean in terms of regulation is undecided. And so any impact on food prices is anyone’s guess.”

The NFU said the UK has a labour shortage and without seasonal workers fruit and vegetables will be left to go rotten in the fields. 

NFU horticulture board chairman Ali Capper said: “Agricultural workers are well paid compared to lots of other practical skilled and semi-skilled jobs.

“In fact, seasonal workers can earn up to £12 or £15 per hour for harvest work. Workers have good benefits which often include housing and accommodation at well subsidised rates. 

“Seasonal work is less attractive to the local communities living permanently in most first world economies. Whether it is the USA, Canada, Germany, France or Australia, local people do not aspire to move from farm to farm to follow the season’s harvest. “

She added: “We are surprised that Migration Watch is concerned with seasonal workers in agriculture as for decades seasonal workers have come in to pick fruit and veg and gone home again. Seasonal workers in our sector are not an immigration issue.”