Farming Minister Robert Goodwill has urged the Government to work as hard as it can to avoid a no-deal Brexit and avoid a "cliff edge" for British agriculture.
The MP for Scarborough and Whitby, who is backing Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt to succeed Theresa May as Prime Minister, said that getting a deal with the European Union is the Government's "single most important objective".
Speaking to The Yorkshire Post on the final day of the Great Yorkshire Show in Harrogate, Mr Goodwill acknowledged that there would be long-term implications for sheep farmers and the management of upland landscapes if agriculture is left exposed to huge tariffs in a no-deal scenario, and that this was something that must be avoided.
The Minister, who rescheduled his visit to the show after parliamentary business interfered with his planned trip on Tuesday, claimed his department, Defra, is the most prepared in government for either Brexit scenario, but he cautioned: "We should work as hard as we can to secure a deal because a deal is really the only way we can ensure that the agricultural industry doesn’t face that cliff edge.
"Mr Hunt’s made it clear there is headroom in the budget to come in with assistance (for the worst affected sectors) but if we did have a situation where we did face long-term tariffs of 40 per cent on our sheep meat exports, that’s going to have long-term implications on the structure of the sheep industry in this country.
"That will then have knock on effects in terms of the upland environment because sheep are an important management tool in the uplands. If we don’t have sheep there because we can’t export them then that’s going to have other implications, so as far as I’m concerned getting a deal is the single most important objective and I believe Jeremy Hunt is best placed to get that deal."
Mr Goodwill, who is a working farmer, said: "I’m backing Jeremy Hunt because, particularly for the agricultural industry, no-deal would be damaging and I believe Jeremy is a proven negotiator... he’s run the NHS for six years and has negotiated with junior doctors in a way that came to an accommodation that both sides agreed with, and therefore I think Jeremy is the best person to get a deal which will be acceptable to Parliament so we can leave the European Union in an orderly way that doesn’t have massive implications for the likes of the sheep sector here in the UK."
As reported in The Yorkshire Post, the president of the National Farmers' Union, Minette Batters, has called for the Government to guarantee long-term funding for agricultural science, which can underpin environmental and productivity improvements on farms. There is concern about future funding because much of the current agri-science investment comes from EU programmes.
Mr Goodwill said there will be money for agri-science outside of the European bloc.
"We are net contributors to the EU budget so in terms of saying ‘are you going to keep going with programmes currently funded by the European Union?’, the answer is yes, the money will be coming back to help us do that sort of thing."
He suggested Britain should embrace gene editing science to improve crop yields and reduce farming's reliance on chemicals, a direction currently stymied in the UK because of EU directives.
"When we have left the European Union we will have more latitude on technology like gene editing because unfortunately we lost the argument in Europe in terms of gene editing being defined as genetic modification. We didn’t agree with that and... if we are really serious about reducing our reliance on pesticides then we shouldn’t cut ourselves off from this exciting technology."
In terms of his message to farmers attending the Great Yorkshire Show, Mr Goodwill said: "I hope the industry is happy that they have got someone as agriculture minister who has come from four, five generations of farmers.
"I’m a working farmer myself, I understand this industry in detail, I have a degree in agriculture, so I hope that they are confident that I’m aware of all the issues facing the industry but we need to end the uncertainty and the only way we can end the uncertainty is getting a deal over the line."