Gove and Eustice play down impact of no deal

Former environment secretary Michael Gove has suggested that crashing out of the EU without a deal could bring benefits for the UK’s life sciences sector, while DEFRA minister George Eustice has suggested the farmers could weather the storm of no deal.

Gove, who now heads up no-deal contingency planning, acknowledged a chaotic Brexit would bring major disruption to sectors such as the sheep industry. But he said that “leaving without a deal also creates opportunities”.

“The first thing is that, as an independent country, it’s possible for us in a huge amount of areas to set the rules and regulations in a way that will encourage scientific innovation,” he said at a Conservative Party conference fringe event on Sunday. “We certainly don’t need to be in the EU’s orbit when it comes to single market rules, when it comes to ECJ jurisdiction.

“So outside the EU we can take steps on everything from gene editing to clinical trials of medicine that mean that we can reduce the food that the world needs more effectively, we can tread more lightly on the planet environmentally,” he added.

It is not the first time that Gove has highlighted gene editing as a possible opportunity for the UK after Brexit. 

Addressing the Country Land and Business Association last November, he said the EU’s precautionary principle “shouldn’t stop scientific innovation in this area and in this way”.

Meanwhile, farming minister George Eustice told conference delegates on Monday that the UK would “protect and safeguard our food standards” in any future trade deals after Brexit - a message repeated by environment secretary Theresa Villiers.

While no deal would bring “some short-term turbulence”, particularly for Northern Irish milk producers and sheep farmers across the UK, Eustice insisted that the situation would be “manageable”. 

“Having a floating exchange rate is a wonderful thing,” he said. “It means if you get a shock to your economy then there is an ability to adjust in the short term… And for most agricultural sectors I would anticipate that the currency adjustment would give them the respite that they need.”

However, Tim Bonner, the chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, expressed his concern over the issue. “I think we have to understand the potential catastrophe of no deal for the livestock farming in particular.” The “potential crisis” facing the UK’s upland farmers is “really quite fundamental”, he added.

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