Tory Shadow Rural Affairs Secretary in Wales, Andrew RT Davies, asks how the Welsh Government can develop a coherent UK framework for post-Brexit ag policy when it is copying the SNP in opposing Union Jack food labelling.
The past seven days have provided yet another troubling insight into the attitude and approach of the Cabinet Secretary and her Welsh Labour Government.
In a somewhat controversial appearance before the Welsh Parliament’s Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs Committee, Labour’s Lesley Griffiths made clear her steadfast opposition to the display of the Union Jack flag at Europe’s premier agricultural gathering, the Royal Welsh Show.
The remarks have been met with wide-spread bewilderment as they demonstrate a spectacular ignorance and disconnect between the Welsh Government and the value of the Union to our agricultural industry.
Let’s be clear, a unionist government should be able to recognise the merits and virtues of using the strengths of both Wales and the United Kingdom to promote our industry and world-class product – that can only serve to benefit Welsh agriculture and the balance sheet of farming businesses the length and breadth of our nation.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by such rhetoric, given this is a Minister who previously claimed there was no such thing as UK and British agriculture, sentiments which would be more at home in the Nicola Sturgeon-SNP playbook.
Such a stance is only going to hamper Welsh farming and points to the manner with which the Welsh Government has handled the result of the referendum in June 2016 – putting politics before the needs of its people.
It might also explain the significant lack of acknowledgement, progress and communication on UK-wide frameworks.
If they are not willing to display a Union Jack, how on earth are they going to sit down and develop coherent UK frameworks?
Let’s be clear, there is one market we can ill-afford to be without, and that is our own UK internal market, with 65 per cent of Welsh exports going to the rest of the United Kingdom. It is paramount this is protected.
For this to happen, we require strong frameworks with significant ‘enabling and constraining’ elements, so post-Brexit we do not find ourselves in a scenario where, for example, our Celtic cousins in Scotland could be allowed to undermine the Welsh agri industry.
And without wanting to sound like a broken record – I am conscious I discussed this somewhat passionately in my previous Brexit Hub column! – the construction and implementation of these frameworks are vital to the long-term future of our industry and yet they seem to be continually kicked into the long-grass – at both ends of the M4.
One simple solution currently being advocated would be the rollover and adoption of the current framework, which would at least provide the industry with clarity and structure. The finer intricacies and details could then be hammered out further down the line.
Serious concerns over the lack of detail, capacity and economic modelling in the Welsh Government’s ongoing consultation process also intensified in opposition questioning of the Minister in the Senedd last week.
Far greater clarification is required on the Government’s proposed ‘land manager’ status.
Where Scotland is seeking to strengthen the ‘active farmer rule’, the Welsh Labour Government, in its usual wisdom, is seeking to head in an altogether different direction, which is unquestionably dangerous.
This is of particular concern to farming and rural communities and would put jobs at severe risk.
It is a very contradictory direction for them to take, as the result would very much fly in the face of the First Minister, Carwyn Jones’s favoured mantra and rhetoric of jobs, jobs and more jobs.
The potential shifting of money from hardworking farmers to big corporate bodies such as Tata Steel and organisations like Cardiff Council for quirky projects such as green-top roundabouts is going to do little to nothing to support jobs, the environment or the production of quality food for our nation.
The proposals, if they are taken through to their ultimate conclusion, will see a huge increase in the number of participants who could potentially benefit from farming support monies which have traditionally been used to support the rural economy.
At the moment, 17,000 to 18,000 people in Wales are in receipt under the basic payment scheme.
Potentially, this could rise to around 40,000 to 45,000 applicants being dealt with by the Welsh Government down the line.
The Minister was confident her department would be able to handle such an uptake, and that we would not see a repeat of the 2005-06 debacle when the intervention board as was, struggled to come to terms with the new system that the UK Government had introduced.
The Welsh Government is playing catch-up and for many, particularly the farming unions, heading in the wrong direction.
It is not too late for the Minister and her Government to think again.
Andrew can be found tweeting at @AndrewRTDavies