With a Government watchdog recently publishing a damning report on Defra’s post-Brexit ag scheme, farmers should use show season to raise their concerns about future policy with MPs, says Conservative peer Anne McIntosh.
Just when everything was going so well. We now have a full-blown leadership contest for the Conservative Party, with a potential constitutional crisis on the horizon.
How might a constitutional crisis arise?
A new leader of the Conservative Party becoming Prime Minister will face the same challenge in the House of Commons as the outgoing PM, Theresa May.
The numbers remain the same, with no majority in the Commons for Theresa May’s deal, for no deal or for another referendum.
This is the longest parliamentary session in recent times, lasting longer than two years.
There is talk among some Conservative leadership candidates of proroguing Parliament - calling a temporary suspension - to draw the session to a close to allow for a state opening of a new parliamentary session.
On this occasion, the reason would be to stop Parliament’s efforts to prevent the UK crashing out with no deal.
At a time when farmers are yearning for an idea of what future farm policy will be, the National Audit Office (NAO) has published a highly critical report on Defra’s preparation for Brexit.
Criticism focused on two key areas: the lack of detail and clarification on the ELMS and the prospect of a new computer software programme for the new schemes post 2022.
There is also a very strong call for funds to be made available to farming business to prepare for the radical changes from BPS to Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS), and in particular, during the transition phase of the current schemes being phased out and the new ones coming in.
There is still no sign of the Agriculture Bill reaching the House of Lords and as the NAO identified, there is little time to prepare and understand how the new policy will affect farmers.
While a three-year national pilot of the ELMS will run from 2021 to 2024, none of the criteria nor how much will be paid will be set out until April 2020.
Given the chequered history of Defra digital payments schemes, as well as others such as the Child Support Agency and the NHS, there is great anxiety as to whether the digital delivery programme can be delivered successfully and on time.
Once the number of candidates to be Prime Minister is down to two, there will be national hustings, giving local party members the chance to quiz them on rural policy - not just the future of farming, but the delivery of services in rural communities.
Sadly no candidate has really raised the issues of food and farming.
We are now in the wonderful season of country shows, demonstrating all that lies at the heart of rural communities and the food and local crafts they produce.
What better opportunity to raise rural issues with candidates for leadership and their supporters.
We will have a new Prime Minister in place by late July, with Ministerial appointments to follow.
With a new EU Commission in place in the autumn, it is unclear as to when Brexit negotiations will recommence.
Anne can be found tweeting at @AnneCMcIntosh