The UK needs a new oversight body, trusted by the devolved nations, to manage potential disputes about farm funding after Brexit, says Ceredigion MP and Plaid Cymru’s Westminster agriculture spokesman Ben Lake.
The call for evidence to the Bew Review on intra-UK allocation of domestic farm support funding is coming to a close this week.
The Bew Review is to be welcomed, for although I applaud the UK Government’s commitment to abandoning the Barnett formula as the basis upon which resources will be allocated among the devolved nations post-Brexit, and to maintain levels of agricultural funding until 2022, several important questions remain.
Namely, if the review does manage to address the initial funding allocation – the initial settlement, as it were – how will we decide the next one in five or ten years’ time?
Just as importantly, how will we decide on acceptable thresholds for financial support, and to what policy priorities these thresholds apply? These are important questions to address if we are to avoid unintended market disruption and distortion within the UK.
Of course, these questions were previously answered by the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) process, which offered the regulatory and financial frameworks within which each of the UK devolved nations have been able to implement and tailor agricultural policies according to their specific needs.
If we are to leave the European Union, we need to agree on new frameworks to ensure the UK internal market functions smoothly.
At present, it is difficult to see how the four respective industries, and the four respective administrations, will operate effectively without agreed common frameworks to coordinate the many moving parts which constitute what is a deeply intertwined market.
I am in no doubt such frameworks will be difficult to agree.
Not only will they need to ensure the functioning of the UK internal market and compliance with international obligations, they will also have to allow for policy divergence in each devolved administration, determine the management of common resources, and – most challenging of all – decide how funding under the UK umbrella will be allocated to the four respective nations.
In Plaid Cymru’s evidence submission to the Bew Review, I have suggested we should look to create intergovernmental frameworks as a way of ensuring not only that Wales gets its fair share of UK funding, but also that multi-annual budgets can be introduced.
Ideally this should be incorporated into the Agriculture Bill when it is brought back to the Commons, putting it on a statutory footing.
Crucially, Wales must have an equal say when discussing future funding models. If these frameworks are to be sustainable, they need to be the products of joint agreement.
At present, there is no appropriate body to oversee the policies in the four nations of the UK, and neither is there a dispute mechanism that is trusted by the four administrations and the four industries.
As well as deciding future funding allocations, an oversight body could adjudicate whether the respective policies of the four nations abide by the UK’s international commitments, or are in danger of distorting the internal market.
I can also see a sort of dispute resolution mechanism role for it in disagreements emanating from the – not too unlikely – event that additional support is afforded to farmers in one nation, but not another, when both groups are impacted by the same exceptional market circumstances or severe weather events.
Avoiding harmful market distortion to our farmers, and maintaining a level playing field across the UK, must be our overriding priorities as policy-makers.
To do so, we must agree on a common set of rules to abide by, and an agreed process or body to act as adjudicator.
Insofar as matters of financial support are concerned, the Bew Review offers a valuable opportunity we cannot afford to waste.
Ben can be found tweeting at @BenMLake