Countryside at the crossroads – an ABC of agricultural change.
Village Hope & Agricultural Christian Fellowship webinar, 30 October 2021
Farming & trade after Brexit, Ian Tremain View Ian’s slides here
In June 2016 the British public were given the vote at the ballot box via a referendum to confirm if we wanted to remain inside the EU. 43 years after we joined the EEC we voted and 51.9% of us chose to leave the club which had influenced our politics, our passports, our freedom to travel, work and study and possibly most influence was brought to bear on our agricultural policy and farming support mechanism.
In 1972 it was reported that the Chinese leader Zhou Enlai was asked about the impact of the French revolution almost 200 years before. “It’s too early to say” was the reply.
Listeners to Radio 4 maybe familiar with the show presented by Jonathan Freedland, “The long view”, which compares stories from the past with current events.
So here we are in 2021 just 5 short years after what seemed like a momentous political decision, and while we will have noticed some very tangible effects of Brexit it’s probably true to say that’s it’s too early to say what impact Brexit will have on our lives and livelihoods in the years ahead. Maybe in one hundred years from now Radio 4 will broadcast an episode of ‘The long view’ which looks at the Brexit decision and evaluates the positives and negatives of how it changed the lives of those in Britain, in the rest of the EU and around the world.
It’s also true to say that as a nation we were divided. Across political parties, across the age groups, across families, across the income categories across all those in agriculture and the allied industries and across all those in the faith communities too.
I listened with great interest to news day after day in the run up to the referendum and like many people will have weighed up arguments, considered the issues that would affect, me and my livelihood, what was best for our country and prayerfully asked for wisdom on how to use my vote and made my choice. The one thing that surprised me is the depth of feeling and the passionate way people took up a position on either one side of the debate or the other.
What I didn’t see coming in a very short period of time after the Brexit referendum was a global pandemic which would change our world perhaps more than any other event in my lifetime. So here we are looking back at the effect of the Brexit decision with just a few years hindsight, and depending on your conviction and your vote, you may be thinking how wise we were. Maybe we will look at the success of our Covid vaccination programme, a triumph by any measure, mainly as a result of being independently capable of making swift decisions to protect the lives of our own citizens. On the other hand you may be looking at the shortage of labour to pick our fruit and vegetable crops, or drive food delivery trucks or milk collection and fuel tankers and point the finger at the Brexit decision and declare it a catastrophe. Or maybe you trade with the EU itself and see nothing but cost and red tape, or have concern about the United Kingdom itself and consider the border down the middle of the Irish sea a disaster for the union or a rise in the Scottish independence movement as an unintended consequence of Brexit.
Whatever your position or experience, it’s true to say that none of these are a surprise to God. When we read our Bibles and see the rise and fall of empires in the Old Testament, or the blessings on leaders of nations who turn their hearts to the Lord we perhaps can take the long view and see whatever we may have felt passionate about in a referendum vote, He may be slightly more interested in the state of our hearts towards our fellow man than our well-reasoned political arguments. One of my Old Testament hero’s is Nehemiah. I just love the story of this humble yet devout God-fearing man, who was moved by a sense of wanting to honour the Lord by rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and by doing so began to rebuild a nation. This was not a man born into a position of power and influence, not an experienced builder or clever politician. This was a man of prayer. At the right time he was bold enough to ask the King for a big favour, and he was granted his request. In the months that followed he was a man who others could believe in too and stone by stone and bit by bit the city of Jerusalem was once again a strong symbol of God’s people. However, the quality that Nehemiah possessed most was his confidence and total trust that his prayers would be answered. He faced criticism and ridicule but never wavered from the task that God had set before him.
When we get down on our knees in prayer it’s a very humbling experience, and hopefully when we get up we can remain humble and still get on with the task God has set before us.
Having grown up on a small Cornish dairy farm, I realised at a young age there must be an easier way to make a living than milking cows. We had a smart and helpful feed rep who came to the farm each month, in a modern car, wearing a clean shirt, and this lifestyle looked very appealing to me, so after a year at Duchy college I landed myself with a job selling feed to farmers. This was the beginning of a career in the supply industry and one that I have loved for 35 years.
I now run my own raw material trading business, which supplies mills and merchants with some of the more niche feed ingredients. I belong to the Bristol Corn & Feed Trade Association and their motto is: “My word is my bond”.
Being able to trust those with whom we trade is the basis for a sound and stable society. The Bible has much to say about honesty and integrity especially in the use of honest weights. ‘Just balances, just weights, just volumetric measures you shall have: I am the LORD Your God which brought you out of the land of Egypt’ (Lev.19:36); ‘A just weight and balance are the LORD’s’ (Prov.16:11). Jesus Himself approved legitimate trading as per the parable of the ten pounds in Luke 19:15 … ‘that he might know how much everyone had gained by trading.’ While today each trade is backed up by a written contract, being able to trust the seller, and in turn being trusted by the buyer is key to an ongoing supply of commodities and ultimately food on our plates. While my own small business does not trade in foreign currency or rely on imports from the EU, we are fortunate not to have felt any detriment in the day to day transactions, as a result of the Brexit decision. I know many are coming to terms with the new regime and protocols for lorries crossing the channel and no doubt we will adapt to the new world as it is, because being resilient in our businesses is essential to keep afloat.
So whether you were a Brexiteer or a Remainer perhaps it’s good to take the long view and not worry too much whether we were right or wrong in our referendum decision and focus on how we serve the Lord of the universe who has seen the rise and fall of empires, and Kings and rulers of nations succeed or fail in leading their people with integrity and wisdom.
I’m generally an optimist, and while there will be all sorts of frustrations with the consequences of Brexit, there will be many advantages too, and the human being is remarkably adaptable when we need to be. So taking Nehemiah’s example, maybe we should get down on our knees to build a great nation, and not rely on our politicians or our National pride in “Cool Britannia” or our independence.
Maybe it’s still too early to say what impact the French revolution will have had on society, and it’s certainly too soon to see how Brexit will change life, but one thing I’m sure of, is that God is the same, yesterday, today and forever.