UNITED KINGDOM — Boris Johnson has been elected the leader of the Conservative Party in the United Kingdom. He is the nation’s new Prime Minister.

One of the main tasks Johnson said he would carry out during his election campaign was to take the UK out of the European Union by Oct. 31 — deal or no deal. In his first speech as the new Prime Minister he said the UK was leaving the EU, “no ifs or buts!”

While there are many concerns within the UK agricultural industry that a no-deal “Brexit” — Britain exiting the European Union — could have dire consequences for producers, Johnson is adamant a deal with the EU can be achieved.

A number of industry leaders are urging the new Prime Minister to put British farming first. National Farmers Union President Minette Batters runs a tenanted family farm in Wiltshire, England, that includes a 100-cow continental-cross suckler herd and a small herd of pedigree Herefords as well as sheep and arable. She congratulated Johnson in his election and urged him to do everything in his power to ensure that the UK’s departure from the EU is carried out in an orderly way.

The Farmers Union has been clear that an orderly departure is crucial in delivering the best outcome for British food production.

“British farming is one of the nation’s most important assets, delivering safe, traceable and affordable food to millions all while taking care of the beautiful countryside we have such great pride in,” she said. “It underpins the nation’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink, contributing more than £120 billion (about USD$148.6 billion) to the economy and employing almost 4 million people.

“To achieve the best outcome from Brexit, we need to leave the EU in a smooth and orderly way. A deal with the EU is crucial to maintaining free trade with our closest neighbors and largest trading partners, as well as access to people who want to come to the UK to work on farms.

“Mr. Johnson has an opportunity to develop a new agricultural policy that works for Britain by creating a sustainable, vibrant and competitive future for our farming sector. We need to see policies that allow farm business to innovate; that help farmers rise to the challenge of tackling climate change; that enable farms access to the workers that pick, pack and grade our fruit, veg and flowers; and crucially an Agriculture Bill that is fit for purpose for the rising challenges of food production.”

Tim Breitmeyer, president of Country Land & Business Association Limited, said, “The campaign is over and now the serious work of government must begin. The rhetoric of no deal must not be allowed to become the political default option. So too must the EU realize that the political dynamic has changed in the UK, and that a return to the negotiation table is the best way to ensure a smooth and orderly transition.

“But for the immediate future, the uncertainty is deeply concerning and brings in to sharp focus the need for a long-term funding settlement to replace the Common Agricultural Policy. This would provide much needed reassurance for farmers in uncertain times.”

National Sheep Association chief executive Phil Stocker said, “This is not a time for playing politics or making rash promises in an attempt to demonstrate perceived leadership strength. Britain needs stability and a framework that avoids business disruption, with serious consideration of sectors like the sheep industry that we know are particularly vulnerable.

“The picture is bleak for British sheep farming if Mr. Johnson refuses to avoid a hard or disorderly departure from the EU, something we know would result in major trade disruption with inadequate time to put in place alternative options.

“Leaving without a deal and ending up with a (World Trade Organization) Brexit will cripple our trade. We currently export some 35 percent of our sheep meat, with around 96 percent of that going to EU markets.

“To suddenly add a tariff of 40 to 50 percent of value will make trade to the EU unworkable without severe price collapses that the industry cannot carry. Promises of a rescue package once things have gone wrong are the wrong approach; what is needed is a strategic package of measures to avoid collapse in the first place.

“I urge Mr. Johnson to prioritize an orderly Brexit that gives continuity with trade, and the formation of a clear strategic plan that negates any breakdown of Britain’s sheep-farming industry.”

With 16 years experience behind him, award-winning agricultural journalist Chris McCullough is always on the hunt for his next story. He grew up on the family dairy farm in the heart of Northern Ireland and is based on the country’s east coast. He travels around the world to bring readers international news.