Defra will have to rethink its timeline for phasing out direct payments if the Agriculture Bill’s progress through Parliament faces any further significant delay, the NFU has warned.
The Bill, which completed its ‘report stage’ in the House of Commons in November last year, has been on pause while the Government continues with efforts to pass the Prime Minister’s Brexit divorce deal.
The legislation sets out how direct payments will be cut over a seven-year ‘agricultural transition’, which is due to begin in 2021 and end in 2027.
But the NFU’s Brexit director, Nick von Westenholz, has suggested this timeline may no longer be realistic given the Bill’s hold-up.
He said: “The long delay in the Agriculture Bill – it has been over half a year since it last reared its head in Parliament – is adding to the enormous uncertainty farmers are feeling around Brexit.
“It would not be reasonable to ask farmers to prepare for wholesale changes to agricultural policy while the legislation underpinning that change has not been passed and the relationship with our largest agricultural trading partner, the EU, remains totally unclear.
“If this delay persists much longer, then Government will need to reassess its plans for the agricultural transition to make sure it is not rushed in against a backdrop of ongoing legal and political uncertainty.”
The NFU’s warning came as a parliamentary hill farming group set up by former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron began pressing Defra Secretary Michael Gove to set out a timetable for the Agriculture Bill’s return to the House of Commons.
In his latest article for Farmers Guardian’s Brexit hub, Mr Farron said the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hill Farming would be pushing for a timescale to give farmers the security they need to plan ahead.
He joins Labour’s Shadow Defra Secretary Sue Hayman in calling for the Bill to be brought back to Parliament for further scrutiny.