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Defra hasn’t got the Brexit money it asked for from Treasury, and that’s worrying

The Chancellor gave Defra £20m to move away from the CAP in his Spending Review, but the department requested much more and was denied it, says Kerry McCarthy, Bristol East MP and Efra Committee member.

The old adage goes that a week is a long time in politics, and the past seven days have certainly been no exception.

 

We’ve seen emergency debates, sackings, resignations, defections, and the utterly indefensible prorogation of Parliament for the next five weeks.

 

I’d like to think that, whatever your views on Brexit, you’d agree with me that closing Parliament down to avoid the scrutiny of elected representatives certainly doesn’t feel like ‘taking back control’.

 

One of the major casualties of prorogation has been the Agriculture Bill, which has now fallen and will need to be re-introduced from scratch.

 

Disappointing

 

It’s deeply disappointing that it isn’t being carried over to the next session, particularly given the countless hours farmers, stakeholders and parliamentarians spent responding to the consultation and guiding it through Committee Stage last year.

 

That disappointment pales into insignificance though when you consider the damaging impact this uncertainty is having on farm investment decisions as we speak.

 

In last week’s Spending Review, Defra was allocated an extra £20m to help replace the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), but I understand a figure many times that was requested by the Department. It’s deeply worrying to say the least.

 

Earlier this week, I had the chance to question Theresa Villiers about Defra’s preparations for Brexit when she appeared in front of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee.

 

Assurance

 

I was pleased to hear her commitment that we aren’t going to let chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef into the UK in any future trade deal and I look forward to the black and white assurance, which I’ve been repeatedly calling for, in the revised Bill.

 

Should those assurances on standards not be there, I can assure you I’ll seek to amend the Bill once again to make it a reality.

 

In spite of prorogation, I hosted a reception in Westminster on Tuesday - with the Landworkers’ Alliance and others - where agroecological farmers from across the UK spoke about their enterprises and supplied fresh produce to create a truly delicious lunch feast for parliamentarians.

 

As the opening speaker said, the session felt like a ‘piece of sanity amongst all the madness’.

 

Improved

 

It also served as an opportunity to highlight a number of areas where the Agriculture Bill, and wider farming policy, could be improved – from establishing agroecological training networks to reforming tenancy law and integrating peri-urban farms into city plans.

 

I’d also like to see an explicit reference of support for whole farm agroecological systems embedded within the Bill.

 

Parliament will next be back in action on October 14 for the Queen’s Speech and I hope the Bill, with its public money for public goods principle intact, will be front and centre.

 

After all, the ‘absolute deadline’ to get the Bill on the statute books to ensure there is no disruption to agricultural payments post-Brexit is summer 2020, and it seems likely there will be a General Election, requiring another restart for the Bill, at some point along the way.

 

In either eventuality, the clock is ticking and there simply isn’t time to waste.

 

Kerry can be found tweeting at @KerryMP


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