Many politicians have an absolute belief that how they see an issue must be right and that anyone who disagrees is wrong.
This can be interpreted, kindly, as conviction politics or less kindly as narrow-mindedness. This has certainly come to the fore over Brexit, which has polarised a single issue to a degree not matched in many years.
One result is that the views of people at the sharp end, from big businesses employing tens of thousands to family farms, are dismissed on grounds that politicians better understand the bigger picture.
However the mess the government and parliament is now in over Brexit must be shaking the confidence of even those politicians convinced we could prosper with a no deal Brexit outcome in March.
The degree of concern this is creating in agriculture was underlined this week when the four main UK farm unions came together to warn of the consequences. These are not concerns limited to the UK. In Dublin the
Irish Farmers Association described the prospect of a hard Brexit as ‘Armageddon’ for Irish farmers. Some might conclude that their loss has to be a gain for farmers here and elsewhere in the UK, but that is a
doubtful comfort. Farmers need to realise that the farming lobby and the views it is expressing is their friend and ally. Those politicians rallying the troops in favour of a no deal outcome have no interest whatsoever in what that might do to family farms across the UK or the many businesses up and down stream that depend on a thriving agricultural industry.
Now is the time for selfishness. Farmers, regardless of how they voted in 2016, need to weigh up the options that will emerge at Westminster over the coming days and decide which will deliver the best and most secure future for UK agriculture. This is not about being for or against Brexit. It is about making sure it happens in a way that is rooted in economic reality rather than political aspirations.
In supporting what politicians say people need to remember that they have the luxury of an assured income, regardless of how Brexit goes, and a nice pay off and gold-plated pension if the electors throw them out of a job. By contrast farmers and thousands of other businesses will have to do their best to cope with the outcome of whatever decisions are finally taken.
My betting remains that the compromise will be a Norway style deal, achieved by the UK remaining in the European Economic Area but outside the CAP and the Common Fisheries Policy. That is as logical a forecast as any other, given that it now looks impossible to get a no deal outcome through parliament, even if it is theoretically the default outcome if the Withdrawal Bill is rejected. A general election is another possibility, as is a delay to the date when the UK leaves the EU. Where we are now sets new standards for uncertainty. All that farmers can do is set politics to one side and support their lobby organisations that are trying to press for common sense to prevail at Westminster.
Back in 2016 straw polls suggested that around 70 per cent of farmers voted for Brexit. This reflected frustration with the red tape surrounding the CAP. At the recent Oxford Farming Conference a number of polls were taken and they suggest opinions may have changed. The Oxford audience is made up of mainly Conservative supporting, large farmers – but if anything that might have been expected to produce an even more pro-Brexit result. Instead a majority believed the Brexit now on the cards would not see exports grow and that the industry would continue to rely on the EU-27 as its prime market. Just ten per cent thought a no deal Brexit would be a good idea while 62 per cent wanted to stay in the EU.
The claim of leave advocates has always been that the EU-27 needs us more than we need them. However current events are persuading many that they will be glad to leave behind the UK to its internal squabbles over Europe.
They now simply want to get on with business and their plans for the post-2020 future of the EU. As to countries with farming industries facing problems, such as Ireland, the EU is prepared to dig deep to insulate them financially from pain. Sadly no-one is making any such promises to farmers here.