Anti-Brexit campaigners herded a flock of sheep along Whitehall on Thursday to highlight their claim that a no-deal Brexit could force half of UK farms out of business.
Six sheep were led past government buildings by the People’s Vote campaign group during the launch of its Farmers For A People’s Vote offshoot.
The spectacle, which lasted around half an hour, ended outside The Farmers’ Club at 3 Whitehall Court, where the groups held a press conference to launch a report about the effects of no deal on agriculture.
Panelists included Welsh Conservative anti-Brexit MP Guto Bebb, who said he will step down at the next election over Brexit and branded the consequences of no-deal “devastating”.
Dr Sean Rickard, former chief economist of the National Farmers’ Union, unveiled the report, No Deal: The Door To The Decimation Of UK Farming.
He said the farming and food industries would be “most vulnerable” to the impacts of no deal.
“We are in a state of utter trading madness if we crash out of Europe,” he said.
Farmers would face “very high tariffs” on exports to the EU and be placed into a “vicious pincers movement”, he said.
The report claims the EU and countries with which it has free trade agreements would apply tariffs on food imports from the UK after no deal, rendering British farms “uncompetitive”.
A combination of the removal of support payments and an “adverse trading environment” will render farming “unviable” and around half of businesses could cease trading by the mid-2020s, the report warns.
Dr Rickard said Brexit supporters do not see farming as a “priority”, adding: “I cannot see much opportunity of this sector growing in the aftermath of a no-deal Brexit.”
“Many industries will suffer but the industry that would suffer the most serious economic shock will be agriculture,” he said.
“It is impossible to project the exact number of farmers who will go out of business. What we do know is that over 40% of them will have no net income if the basic payment is removed.”
Mr Bebb said: “Farming is at the very heart of what makes this country great.
“To put that all at risk for the sake of pursuing a disastrous no deal for which the public haven’t given their consent would be an outrage against democracy.