The Corn Laws were tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and corn enforced in the United Kingdom between 1815 and 1846. The word corn in British English denotes all cereal grains, including wheat, oats and barley. They were designed to keep corn prices high to favour domestic producers, and represented British mercantilism. The Corn Laws blocked the import of cheap corn, initially by simply forbidding importation below a set price, and later by imposing steep import duties, making it too expensive to import it from abroad, even when food supplies were short.
The Corn Laws enhanced the profits and political power associated with land ownership. The laws raised food prices and the costs of living for the British public, and hampered the growth of other British economic sectors, such as manufacturing, by reducing the disposable income of the British public.
The laws became the focus of opposition from urban groups who had far less political power than rural areas. The first two years of the Great Famine in Ireland of 1845–1852 forced a resolution because of the urgent need for new food supplies. The Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, a Conservative, achieved repeal with the support of the Whigs in Parliament, overcoming the opposition of most of his own party.
Economic historians see the repeal of the Corn Laws as a decisive shift toward free trade in Britain. The repeal of the Corn Laws benefitted the bottom 90% of income earners in the United Kingdom economically, while causing income losses for the top 10% of income earners.