Julie Girling, MEP for South West England and member of the EU Agriculture Committee, questions why the UK is leaving the CAP when the ‘better parts’ of the Agriculture Bill simply replicate the EU system.
One of the most frustrating parts of the Brexit process has been a tangible lack of information regarding the negotiation itself, made even more complicated by impenetrable legal and constitutional commentary.
Even resigning Ministers fail to really pin their colours to the mast, favouring a softly approach in hope of securing the highest of all offices.
The misrepresentations of leave gave way to the obscurantism of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and now there seems to be a chaotic lack of any direction. Perhaps, in the recently published Agriculture Bill, there are clues to what the future may look like.
The Bill commits to a ‘Green Brexit’, which puts the environment first, but is very sparse on critical post-Brexit issues: food production, food security, and the competiveness of UK agriculture internationally.
The Bill is essentially structural and legal in nature, giving the Government the powers to initially replicate the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS) and then deconstruct it over a 7-year period.
The Government will replace the BPS with an ‘Environmental Land Management System’, removing the current emphasis on occupying farmland for subsidies.
Other than the abolition of the of the BPS and Countryside Stewardship system, there is no substantive detail about the workings of the post-Brexit system.
The BPS system will remain largely in place until 2020, though the Government reserves the right to introduce ‘simplifications’ before the transition period begins in 2021 and direct payments are removed entirely by 2028.
The usual, and fair, criticisms of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) have been rolled out by Defra – largest payments to those with the greatest area of land – but no explanation has gone to the fact it has taken UK farmers 45 years to reach and adapt to this system.
Perhaps the current system is the least bad of all the alternatives, particularly instruments of market intervention once used to stimulate and curb food production.
The proposals do not actually define what ‘farmers delivering for the public good’ means and despite listing worthwhile objectives – better air and water quality, improved soil health, flood prevention and public access to the countryside – fails to recognise the current BPS regime already obliges farmers to deliver many of these benefits.
There are certainly noble aspirations in the Bill, which is welcome, but faith in red lines and promises from the current leadership is perhaps asking a bit much.
A lack of concise detail leaves the agriculture sector with very little to go on at a time when food security is critical and imports are about to get a lot more difficult – all a far cry from the rampant exporting prowess of global Britain that we were promised.
The largest and most productive farms will be penalised, while the better parts of the Bill are merely replications of the existing system, rather begging the question: why are we leaving?
There is a short-sighted shift away from production, security, efficiency and competitiveness, at a time when this should be our primary concern.
Julie can be found tweeting @JulieGirling