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Brexit Hub

Devolveds must wade through ‘constitutional mud’ to get right result for farmers

CLA Cymru director Rebecca Williams talks through the difficulties the devolved regions face in bringing laws back from the EU.  

Brexit brings uncertainty, but for Welsh farmers the unanswered questions are particularly acute and complicated by the need to redefine the relationships between the UK and Welsh Government.

 

Leaving the European Union involves understanding complex interdependencies, from the trade-offs of new international trade policies to the balance between economic support and environmental delivery in land use policy.

 

In Wales, these questions are overlaid by ambiguity as the unravelling of EU ties quickly becomes tangled in the devolutionary settlements.

Politically charged

 

Which group of elected politicians gets to decide what, who is accountable to whom and where the money comes from become sensitive and politically charged questions.

 

The challenge is wading through the constitutional mud and delivering pragmatic answers which support farmers in making the right decisions for their future.

 

At one level, this should be simple. Farming, natural resources and economic development are the responsibility of the Welsh Government – it decides policy, and sets and enforces regulations for Wales completely separately from what happens elsewhere.

Complications

 

However, since devolution, until now, this has been within the tolerances provided for by the Common Agricultural Policy. The complications come when trying to replace the integral role the EU has played in this area for more than 40 years.

 

Who will set a budget? Who will oversee how public money is spent? And who will decide whether policies pursued in one part of the UK distort trade within the UK ‘single market’?

 

The Welsh Government would be negligent if it failed to defend its status and competences. In fact, its nascent legislation, the Well Being of Future Generations (Wales) Act and the Environment (Wales) Act, has created a potential landing-strip for relevant law and regulation flying-in direct from Brussels.

Challenging

 

Wales’s response to the challenging process of ‘repatriation of laws’ through the UK Government’s European Union (Withdrawal) Bill is the Law Derived from the European Union (Wales) Act.

 

This seeks to by-pass Westminster and transfer EU law in already-devolved areas direct into Welsh law and provide the legal certainty that is so needed.

 

In other circumstances, such a development may have generated more extreme Welsh patriotism, but as the Welsh First Minister explains, the preferred outcome is to achieve agreement on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

 

Immature

 

The Welsh Government still wants to work with Westminster. Politics aside, part of the problem is the constitutional arrangements are immature and lack mechanical traction.

 

For farmers, the journey’s destination is more important than the route. That we know little about the size and shape of our future markets creates difficulties in asking the right questions and developing the right structures.

 

I sense that the resulting picture will emerge like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, rather than a consequential chain of logical events.

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