With so much Brexit confusion in Westminster, the Government must reconsider its plans to phase out direct payments for farmers from 2021, says Conservative peer Anne McIntosh.
Confusion reigns at Westminster, with the Government having lost its slender majority.
The Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue Parliament for a five-week period, stymying any opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s preparations for leaving the EU on October 31 is highly questionable.
This decision is now subject to a three-day hearing before the Supreme Court, with a decision expected in late September.
There is increasing talk of a possible deal being agreed in the short time available, encompassing an all-Ireland solution covering agricultural and food products.
There are obvious caveats – whether the EU will feel that should cover other sectors too, the extent to which the DUP will agree and whether the Northern Irish Assembly can be reconstituted in time to consider it.
I would also add whether Scotland may query why it only applies to Northern Ireland, as the Scots want to continue to benefit from the customs union and single market.
A two-year parliamentary session was deemed to be essential to allow the adoption of at least seven Bills paving the way for the UK leaving the EU.
They were for agriculture, environmental protection, fisheries, immigration, trade rollover and new trade agreements, as well as a Bill to have implemented any deal agreed for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Arguably, the Government’s original timetable for phasing out farm support should no longer apply.
Direct payments are currently planned to be cut between 2021 and 2027, in a situation in which no pilots of the proposed Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) have taken place.
The real threat of a no-deal Brexit is the loss of a transition phase of two years, which was agreed as part of Theresa May’s deal.
Without this transition period, the UK would immediately become a third country on November 1 and would lose access to the single market, customs union and the existing free trade agreements negotiated by the EU.
Meanwhile, the incoming EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has appointed the current EU Farm Commissioner Phil Hogan to be the next EU Trade Commissioner.
He will therefore be responsible for finalising the future trade deal with the UK, as well as agreements with the USA, China, Australia and others.
The possibility of us leaving on October 31 with a deal could depend on the UK producing a detailed legal text of its proposals for discussion at the October Summit of EU Member States.
What is clear is the position politically remains uncertain, not giving the clarity desired by farmers and other rural businesses.
There is also mounting concern that the Prime Minister may be prepared to flout the letter and spirit of the law by failing to apply the Act of Parliament requiring him to ask the EU for an extension if no deal is agreed, so we would leave at some date after October 31.
Many feel the threat of a second prorogation would be a step too far.
Which all goes to show a week really is a long time in politics.
Anne can be found tweeting at @AnneCMcIntosh