If the Scottish Government does not set out a clear plan and direction of travel for agriculture, the annual support budget of £500m could be under threat, says Mike Rumbles, Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP for the North East.
This week, the UK Parliament has passed the UK Government’s Bill to withdraw us from the European Union.
January 31 will mark the beginning of the process of leaving the European institutions and trade arrangements we have helped to develop over the past 44 years.
With that in mind, I was struck by a comment made by one Brexit Party MEP this week, who said: “Attending the penultimate session of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee with British MEPs.
“The big question now is, who will be here to hold these people to account while they still control Britain’s waters, but the UK has no representation?”
It is not often I find myself agreeing with a representative of the Brexit Party, but perhaps this MEP should have thought about this issue before campaigning to remove our influence from Europe.
From January 31, we will have no say over EU policy and the impact of that will be felt most of all in farming and fishing.
It is clear the Common Agricultural Policy has many failings, and there are indeed opportunities for the future now we will no longer be part of it.
I have argued all along that we should use this opportunity to develop a new bespoke system of support for our agricultural industries in Scotland.
I want a new funding programme tailored to maximise the strengths of Scottish produce, and as I said to NFU Scotland and Scottish Land and Estates earlier this month, that programme should be developed with full co-operation from producer, consumer and environmental organisations.
Let’s be clear about the challenges.
We will be designing our new system against a backdrop of competition with our former partners in the EU.
If we want to continue to sell to the continent, we will have to meet all the regulations and red tape associated with the EU without having any say over the rules.
On that point, the Brexit Party MEP was absolutely correct.
In Scotland, the money which is usually ring-fenced by the EU to support our farm businesses will now be under threat from both UK and Scottish Government departments.
Without a clear plan and direction of travel, it will be very difficult to protect that annual support budget of £500 million from other worthy spending projects in our education system or health care services.
I will continue to argue for a new system of support for our farm business, I will continue to call for long-term funding for our rural economy and I will continue to hold Scottish Government Ministers to account if they fail to deliver on their promises.