Farming comment: Brexit is the gift that keeps on giving for us hacks

The Press room at the Royal Highland Show was its usual hubbub with scribes bent over their computers and photographers looking hopefully for inspiration into the innards of their cameras.

The problems of Brexit for farmers will roll on for years
The problems of Brexit for farmers will roll on for years

The air was filled with the customary random cries for help. “Does anyone know the breeding of the reserve female champion in the Anglo Nubian goats?” or “Does anyone remember what the Minister promised when he was at the show last year?”

But four years ago, a different topic spread like the proverbial wildfire through the working journalists as they strove to absorb the implications of the referendum vote taken the day before.

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For those working in agricultural journalism, the narrow result to leave the European Union would bring about a massive change in our work practices. Listening to the policy vibes from Europe was, and had been for four decades, an integral part of the farming agenda.

As part of our work, many of the reporters had been to Brussels to observe how the European Union worked. We had also trailed around after sundry Euro politicians who had come to see what Scotland looked like.

We had had our vocabulary increased – but not improved – with new words such as Set Aside, Green Pounds and for the real experts in Eurospeak, Co-responsibility Levies and Monetory Compensatory Allowances entered the language as the Common Agricultural Policy twisted and turned.

“It will be like losing an arm,” one old hack opined as he thought of a professional life shorn of the European connection. A younger reporter then wondered if there would be a shortage of material on which to report in a post-EU world

The journalists are well used to people popping into their workplace and, as none had noticed the presence of a stranger, his entrance had gone without comment.

Some visitors come in to complain that their bull, tup or pony had been unjustly deprived of the championship by an inferior specimen, and by a judge of dodgy parentage. When these malcontents invade the privacy of the Press room, everyone knew to keep their heads down and not make any eye contact with the complainants

But the stranger was not one of those moaners who have forgotten the element of good or bad fortune in the livestock show ring. Neither was he one of the goodly number of visitors the Press room gets who are merely looking for the nearest public conveniences.

To call him a stranger would be wrong as he was known, and quietly respected by the Press corps so that when he spoke in his quiet voice, the verbal maelstrom that had been swirling around the room was stilled.

His unsolicited opinion of the vote to leave the EU or Brexit, as it shortly became known, was that it would prove to be a very good thing for those who scribble about the farming industry.

“For some farmers, leaving Europe will be good. For many others it will bring disruption and financial pain but for journalists this will be like a never-ending harvest.

“It will take years to untangle and along the way there will be lots of news stories that emerge with the politicians and civil servants not having thought of them,” he stated.

And he was right. Here we are more than four years and many notebooks later and yet the politicians are still arguing the small print of the separation deal.

There has been bluster and bluff along with unfounded claims of a golden age being accompanied by equally unsubstantiated, yet pessimistic predictions of price rises and imbalances in the food chain.

There has been, as the visitor to the press room predicted, lots of stories to be reported

And as the gift that keeps on giving for the journalists there is more, much more, to come from the UK/EU split as we move from the political rhetoric into the realities of life in the new world.

Far from being concluded on the first of January 2021, the problems of Brexit will roll on for years, if not decades. Something never envisaged or elaborated upon by those wanting to leave Europe; those who stuck an unsubstantiated message on a bus and backed it up with a few simple slogans.

Yes, there is a lot still to write about, but it is not much fun if the farming industry is sliding down the economic hill.


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