I was debating some issues with a friend recently, which was interesting as we both tend to view things from a variety of directions. We were going around in circles, examining things first from this perspective, then from that. ‘We’re a couple of 50p pieces’ she said.
What she meant was that rather than being focused and single minded, we were attempting to examine things from a multi-faceted approach, which meant we would never reach any conclusion! We laughed, had another glass of wine and continued providing each other with a variety of views on a range of topics.
The Brexit debate
Shortly after this, I had a series of meetings with farmers and fishermen, and of course the subject of Brexit arose. I make no secret of the fact that I am and have been a confirmed Remainer, but I appreciate there are many different arguments, and something this complex doesn’t have a simple solution. I live in a region that has benefited economically from EU funding yet voted overwhelmingly to leave.
Firstly, I met with the fishermen. Initially, talks revolved around fish stocks, marine conservation zones and the ability of small boat fishermen to make a living today. Soon, though discussions moved on to Brexit where it became clear that leaving the EU could potentially have a positive impact due to the removal of the quotas agreed by Brussels and imposed on our fishermen. Under this, they are restricted on how much they can catch, whereas other countries seem to have a much larger allowance.
I fully admit, I don’t understand the quotas, but my understanding is that they were put in place to protect fish stocks, and unless we agree some form of limitation, there would be nothing to stop our own fishing trawlers denuding our seas, so a clear post-Brexit strategy for fishing is essential.
A different perspective
Later that same day, I was present at an event including several farmers. I was expecting a similar reaction to Brexit, but was surprised when it was rather different. Currently, a large proportion of the food currently produced in the UK is being shipped to the EU. Potentially when these markets either disappear or become harder to access, then our markets could be flooded with excess produce, possibly pushing prices down leading to many farmers going out of business.
I reflected later in the day that this could also be the case for the fishermen, and something they have possibly not foreseen. Currently, a large amount of the fish caught in Cornwall, and I am sure elsewhere in the UK, is shipped off immediately to the Continent – so are we also looking at a glut of seafood with fishermen going out of business?
Over the weekend, weary of tennis and football, I tuned into BBC’s Russia with Simon Reeves (https://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2017/39/russia-with-simon-reeve). This was the final episode and saw him visiting rural areas at the western end of the country.
Whilst some of the farms and villages were extremely basic with no running water, limited electricity and dirt track roads, others had found prosperity following the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU.
Russian artisan cheeses
One farmer has found prosperity and success creating a range of artisan cheeses. Before EU sanctions, he said, cheese was imported from France, but once the sanctions were imposed foreign foods disappeared enabling him to fill the gap in the market. He had even managed to make an alcoholic drink from cheese, which I am not sure I have heard of from anywhere else in the world! His produce wouldn’t have looked out of place in any upmarket cheese or farm shop in the UK.
Different aspects to Brexit
Which brings me back to the 50p perspective. In the space of 5 days, I heard many different views on the impact of Brexit to our fishing, farming and food production, and they all have some merit.
We will have more control of our waters and our policies, but we could be at risk of damaging the long-term sustainability of these industries without effective controls.
We could find that our home-grown more artisan produce grows in popularity with less EU produced competition, but we could also find our markets flooded with the food that previously has gone to the Continent thus putting pressure on UK producers, some of whom may find they can no longer continue.
There are no clear answers and I suspect the true fall-out of Brexit won’t be felt for many years. We still await a clear understanding of what the final agreement will look like so even beginning to predict impacts is impossible. The result is that food producers of all descriptions have little idea how to prepare or what planning to do for the future.
It’s exhausting being a 50p piece, but as ‘a seven-sided coin formed as an equilateral-curve heptagon, or Reuleaux polygon, a curve of constant width, meaning that the diameter is constant across any bisection’ (Wikipedia), it could be considered a symbol of good luck – seven being considered a lucky number in some cultures!