A RECENT conference in London, organised by farm unions and industry bodies, will not have boosted farmers' confidence that anyone in the Brexit driving seat knows where they are going, or what they are doing.

The organisations behind the event – including the UK, Irish, Danish, Dutch, German and French farm unions – underlined that while the UK is leaving the EU, agriculture cannot be separated from its main market and key allies in facing the threat of cheap food from the world beyond the EU.

In her comments, the NFU president, Minette Batters, said cooperation between farmers and farm organisations in the UK and EU-27 was critical for the future. She also stressed that trade must be as free and frictionless as possible. As to the future, beyond Brexit, she said agriculture in the UK would still be affected by the policies of our 'nearest and largest' neighbour. As to the prospect of leaving the EU with no deal, she pulled no punches, warning that this would be 'disastrous'.

That same term was used by another speaker, the Conservative MP Neil Parish. It was always surprising that this farmer, turned MEP, turned Conservative MP, never made it on to the agriculture team at Defra, under either David Cameron or Theresa May. As a former, and very good, chairman of the European parliament's agriculture committee, he had the perfect credentials, but was probably deemed too pro-farmer. This is ironic when the Conservatives were once the party that had ministers from the Tory shires with mud on their boots and who knew farming. However such views would not go down well with the urban electorate the party now views as its target support base.

To Mr Parish it would be 'disastrous' to leave the EU without a deal, although he underlined that the 2016 referendum result must be delivered. Referring to the Agriculture Bill now going through Westminster, he said it would effectively stand the CAP on its head. This is because most funding will go into greening, as opposed to a share of CAP direct payments.

He added that the UK needed agriculture, and needed to produce food as well as green outcomes. These comments, not surprisingly, went down well with his audience. It is a pity this point is not recognised amongst other MPs drafting the Agriculture Bill and post-Brexit support policies. It is ironic that many farmers voted to leave the EU because of the bureaucracy associated with greening – and what they are going to get is more greening.

Like others, Mr Parish told delegates a trade deal was the key to a successful Brexit. He hit the nail firmly on the head when he said that for agriculture 40%, and in some cases 60%, of trade with the EU-27 would not be easily replicated.

As to the Agriculture Bill, he echoed the views of many who have looked at this, in warning that there was too much use of the world 'may' and not sufficient use of 'shall'. This is a huge difference for farmers, since it is the difference between support being there at the whim of politicians, or being there as a legal right. Despite claims that austerity has ended, farmers would be rash to expect that to extend to an open-ended commitment from the Treasury to support agriculture.

This was always the gamble for those that voted to leave the EU, and it is a gamble yet to be tested. However Parish is right when he flags up the lack of legal force for farm support from his fellow Conservatives in the government.

Staying with trade, the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, had a dose of very icy water poured on his confidence about the simplicity of a no-deal Brexit. This was because the World Trade Organisation rejected his plans for automatic entry to its rules on tariffs. Those objecting were led by Russia, but included the United States, which Fox sees as his big hope for an early trade deal.

This ends the claims of the pro-Brexit Tories that without a deal we would simply go onto WTO tariffs. That is clearly not the case, making no deal on trade effectively a recipe for chaos. Those who thought WTO an easy fallback now need a Plan B. It could be time to dust off Norway-style membership of the European Economic Area, which allows free trade without CAP membership.