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Brexit Hub

Are our leaders’ cold feet leaving Scottish farmers and crofters out in the cold?

NFUS political affairs manager Clare Slipper asks how much longer politics can hold up progress on a future agriculture policy in Scotland, noting Northern Ireland, which has no Government, is further along in the process.   

The Prime Minister is feeling the pressure once again.

 

Those within her inner circle have publicly fallen out over the not-so-minor issues of staying within a Customs Union after Brexit, and the mushrooming Windrush immigration scandal – the latter resulting in yet another unanticipated Ministerial exit and impromptu reshuffle within the Home Office.

 

And externally, just as UK Government thought they might be close to sealing a deal with the devolved administrations on an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill, taking care of the transposition of future policy frameworks, the Scottish Government got cold feet and refused to sign.

 

This has led to yet another scene in the biopic impasse between the UK and Scottish Governments on, essentially, what domestic arrangements will replace the Common Agricultural Policy framework when we leave the EU at the end of next March.

 

Not an easy fortnight for the Prime Minister, surely, but what concerns NFU Scotland is all of these issues dishearteningly bear more than a little relevance to the union’s three key Brexit priorities of trade, labour and future agricultural support.

 

Meaningful

 

This is not for NFU Scotland’s want of trying to get meaningful progress on all three of these areas in the many months that have now passed since the 2016 vote.

 

Which now begs the question of how much longer politics can hold up progress on getting the right frameworks in place for trade, immigration, and agricultural support – are our leaders’ cold feet are now leaving Scottish farmers and crofters out in the cold?

 

Nearly six weeks ago, NFU Scotland published its document ‘Steps to Change – A New Agricultural Policy for Scotland Post-Brexit’ which sets out a clear direction of travel for all of Scottish agriculture to improve its standing in terms of productivity, environmental benefits and financial stability.

 

The direction of travel is not miles away from what is being proposed in Defra’s future agricultural policy consultation paper for England – but the nuance lies in ‘how we get there’.

 

For NFU Scotland, the position is and always has been that we need commonly agreed frameworks around areas like animal health, food safety, traceability and plant protection products to protect the intra-UK market.

 

Imposed

 

But thereafter, there must be completely devolved capacity to develop and implement policy measures which work for Scotland’s unique agricultural profile and take the industry forward. The key is these frameworks need to be agreed by all, and not imposed.

 

The union’s ‘Steps to Change’ proposals are far from a done deal, but its reception has been warm politically from both UK and Scottish policy makers.

 

But whilst there is agreement about the principles behind NFU Scotland’s proposals, the political impasse is stopping us from having an honest conversation about ‘how we get there’ and commonly agree the frameworks that must be in place to implement the future policy.

 

It seems as though the Westminster assumption is that differentiating policies in the UK would take Scotland further in the direction of independence – rather than granting this flexibility in order to secure internal harmony.

 

And for the SNP Scottish Government, the mistrust of the Westminster machine is such that it now cannot budge in its resolve without appearing to irrevocably roll back on its raison d’etre.

 

Progress

 

It has not gone unnoticed that for our cousins in Northern Ireland, with their lack of a political administration, far greater progress has been made between officials and stakeholders on how a future agricultural policy might be modelled.

 

Now more than ever, goodwill is needed on both sides to take the politics out of it and find a way to reach agreement on these vital principles.

 

That could mean beefing up mechanisms such as the Joint Ministerial Committee, and examining new concepts such as Qualified Majority Voting to ensure that all voices round the table feel their concerns are noted and heard.

 

Ultimately, it also means respect for the devolution settlement.

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