A No Deal Brexit would be as bad for Devon as the Foot and Mouth crisis, the Government has been told.
The warning has been made in a letter from the Heart of the South West Joint Committee and the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) sent to Michael Gove.
It tells the No Deal Brexit minister that, without comprehensive mitigation in place, the region will suffer significant business closures and there will be a fundamental impact on Devon and Somerset.
The Heart of the South West Joint Committee and the Heart of the South West LEP are a partnership of 16 local authorities, two national parks, two CCGs and the LEP.
They represent 1.7million people and 80,000 businesses across Devon and Somerset.
The letter is jointly signed by Councillor David Fothergill, chairman of the Joint Committee, and Steve Hindley, chairman of the LEP.
It states that it could result in conditions not seen in rural communities since the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001, which took nine months to bring under control and cost the UK £8billion.
It says: “While we appreciate the Government is working to secure a deal with the European Union, we cannot ignore the fact that No Deal remains a possible outcome.
“One of the most ‘at risk’ business sectors and the sector most likely to see the most immediate impact from No Deal is farming, food and the drink industry.
“A No Deal scenario, without a comprehensive and cross-government mitigation plan in place, could create conditions that have not been seen in our rural communities since Foot and Mouth.
“The pressure could result in significant business closures and cumulative impacts on supply chain and rural communities in a sector and area dominated by micro, small and medium enterprises.
“It could have an unintended longer-term impact on our fantastic landscapes which would in turn put pressure on our growing tourism industry.
“Such an economic shock, without the correct mitigation in place, would have a fundamental impact on the social, economic and environmental fabric of Devon and Somerset.”
The letter urges the Government to put in place a number of fiscal and policy measures to mitigate the worst impacts of a No Deal Brexit on the sector.
They include providing adequate financial support to ensure farming, goods and the drinks industry remain financially viable until new systems and trading arrangements are in place and working, the No Deal tariff policy is urgently amended to provide greater safeguards to prevent cheap imports creating unfair market conditions, maintain funding streams to support rural communities.
The letter concludes by saying: “We as community leaders across Devon and Somerset seek urgent reassurance that comprehensive, cross-Government Department mitigations are in place and are ready to be activated on October 31.”
Ben Bradshaw, MP for Exeter, said that South West business and local authority leaders were absolutely right and doing their job to warn of the disastrous impact of a No Deal Brexit on the region.
He said: “The only difference with foot and mouth is that the impact of a crash out Brexit would go on for many years to come.
“As well as the short-term damage the LEP identifies, we would have to negotiate, from a position of extreme weakness and isolation from outside the EU, all of our trade relationships with Europe and the trade deals we already enjoy with the rest of the world thanks to our membership of the EU.
“It is grossly irresponsible for the Government and other politicians to be continuing to threaten no-deal, given Parliament passed the law in September to make such an outcome illegal.
“It’s clear that there is going to need to be a further extension anyway and Johnson should be using that time instead of grandstanding to knuckle down negotiating and then give the public a final say referendum on whatever deal he manages to come up with.”
A series of questions over the impact of a No Deal Brexit on Devon and the South West were also asked by Cllr Martin Shaw at Thursday’s full Devon County Council meeting.
He wanted to know what steps the council was taking to mitigate any threats that a No Deal Brexit on October 31 would cause .
In response, Cllr John Hart, leader of the council, said: “The council works to the Devon, Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Resilience Forum which is the statutory partnership responsible for planning the risks and mitigations for a No Deal Brexit including medicines and medical supplies, food, fuel and agricultural supplies under the Government’s Operation Yellowhammer.
“The council reviews its own service contingency planning based on advice from the LRF and Government.
“The county council has received £262,500 from Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to help with Brexit preparedness to cover activity across the financial years of 2019/20 and 2020/21.
“The additional activity to prepare our organisation for a No Deal Brexit has been contained within this budget.
“We have, however, made representations to government that if we move into response and recovery, we would need to look at cost recovery models for any additional burdens the county incurs.
“In the event of an incident, the Government can decide to apply a series of financial tools to provide additional monies to first responders such as the county council.
“We have been working with the Local Resilience Forum, the Local Enterprise Partnership and the Heart of the South West Joint Committee to raise the issues identified by businesses, especially micro, small and medium businesses, to government.
“The county council will continue to do all it can to support its communities and businesses irrespective of the outcome of parliamentary process on this issue.”