News / Good Trade Campaign

Sustain responds to think tank that says we should cut tariffs and let farms go to the wall after Brexit

Radio 4’s Farming Today programme discussed the possible impact on food prices of a No Deal Brexit this morning (Monday 28 January). Guy Watson, joint owner of Riverford was asked what impact any delays in trade would have on his business.

Guy Watson “I am terrified of the implications of a No Deal or a Disorderly Brexit. It will take about four days lost trading to wipe out any potential profit. It will probably take a fortnight for us to breach our banking covenants and be effectively bankrupt after 30 years of building the business. To be told by people who have no idea how their food is produced that this is Project Fear makes me incandescent with rage.”

However, the programme also interviewed Tim Worstall of the free trade, neoliberal think tank The Adam Smith Institute who thinks he has spotted an opportunity from leaving without a deal.

Tim Worstall said: “The WTO tariffs are a maximum that we may charge if we wish to. If we don’t wish to charge them, we can charge 0%. Nothing. And, if we were being sensible we would charge nothing. Me? I argue for consumers. So let’s have cheap food. Let’s not have tariffs on food from anywhere. If farmers can’t make money on that situation, well farmers can go out of business.”

Vicki Hird, food and farming co-ordinator at Sustain responded this afternoon: “The Adam Smith Institute suggests that after Brexit the UK should simply remove all tariffs on food, casually and carelessly acknowledging that this would put UK farmers out of business. These comments are an insult to our farming communities. He says he argues for consumers but what he is proposing would wipe out the livelihoods not just of farmers, but farm workers and food producers all along the supply chain. It would destroy rural cohesion, devastate our rural communities and change irrevocably our much-loved rural landscapes.

“Even if our farmers could compete against cheap, zero tariff imports, they would have to lower our food standards in order to do so. Mr Worstall claims to speak for consumers and yet appears to be unaware that British consumers have already said they will categorically not trade away their high food quality.”

The programme also interviewed analyst Harry Schmidt who warned that even if we remove tariffs from food after Brexit, prices will rise. He argued that delays at borders, checks by customs authorities, the need for certificates and administrative costs would all increase prices that would need to be borne by consumers in the UK, lest European producers find new markets elsewhere. He also made the point that US, Canadian and Brazilian farmers, for example, could not easily scale up to meet the needs of UK consumers due to the high standards demanded in the UK.


Sustain has compiled a Q & A on the possible impact on food and farming of a No Deal Brexit, which you can read here.

Published 28 Jan 2019

Good Trade Campaign: Campaigning for good trade that benefits people and the planet at home and overseas.

Latest related news

Support our charity

Donate to enhance the health and welfare of people, animals and the planet.


The Green House
244-254 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9DA

020 3559 6777

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

© Sustain 2021
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies