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Eustice launches Farmers for Britain with pledge to maintain farm support post-Brexit

Farming Minister George Eustice has launched the Farmers For Britain campaign with a claim a UK Government would at least maintain support levels at the current rate, if the UK voted to leave the EU in June.

George Eustice
George Eustice

Farming Minister George Eustice has insisted the Government would maintain – or even increase – the level of support farmers currently receive, if the UK voted to leave the EU.

 

Mr Eustice made the claim at the launch of the official ‘Farmers for Britain’ campaign in central London on Wednesday at an event attended by supportive farmers and MPs, including former Defra Secretary Owen Paterson and UKIP Agriculture spokesman Stuart Agnew.

 

“Let us get one thing straight,” Mr Eustice said. “The UK Government will continue to give farmers and the environment as much support – or perhaps even more – as they get now.

 

"The Prime Minister has made this clear and I agree with him. After all, non-EU countries like Switzerland and Norway actually give more support to their farmers than we do."

MP support

This assertion is strongly refuted by the ‘Farmers for In’ campaign, which has argued it is ‘Government policy, set by Labour and endorsed by the coalition in 2011, to abolish direct payments in 2020’.

 

But Mr Eustice insisted MPs were supportive of moves to maintain support for farmers and would ensure this happened in the event of Brexit.

 

He dismissed suggestions long-running Treasury antipathy to direct farm payments would make the task impossible, insisting the Treasury would deliver policy determined by MPs, as recent announcements following last week’s budget showed.

 

Mr Eustice said the Government would be able to maintain the farm support budget, currently bout £3 billion a year, by using some of the £18 billion the UK would get back as a result of leaving the EU.

 

Pressed on the obvious pressures on UK Government spending, he described the UK CAP budget as ’modest when compared with other spending areas’, such as overseas development, while the NHS routinely overspends by this amount.

 

He added: "But we could spend our money more effectively if we had control.’

UK Agricultural Policy

He outlined his broad plans for a UK Agricultural Policy, including retaining an element of area payments, supporting science and technology and Government-backed insurance schemes to mitigate risk.

 

There would also be an environmental stewardship-type scheme, with an element rewarding farmers for animal welfare-friendly systems, such as free range and enriched environments.

 

Cross-compliance would be replaced by an accreditation scheme promoting environmentally-friendly farming.

 

But he added: “A UK agricultural policy will not be dumped on everyone from on high like CAP.”

 

He revealed he had written to all farming unions and environmental NGOs in the UK to ‘invite their views on what a future farming policy outside of the EU should look like’.

The benefits of Brexit

Mr Eustice and his Farmers for Britain allies, who also include Farmers For Action leader David Handley and Michael Seals, chair of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England, are trying to convince farmers they would be ‘better off if we vote to leave the EU’.

 

By taking back control from the EU, they say the UK could:

 

 

  • Protect farmers’ subsidies – and even increase them
  • Reduce regulation on farmers
  • Target money on environmental protection, conservation and flood defences
  • Decide the UK’s own rural policy

 

 

Mr Eustice addressed claims UK made by, among others Prime Minister David Cameron and Defra Secretary Liz Truss, exporters would be disadvantaged by Brexit.

 

“We will also maintain a free trade agreement. We have an annual trade deficit with the EU in food alone of £10 billion, so they need a free trade deal,” he said.

 

While the UK would still have to comply with some EU regulation in order to continue trading with the EU, ‘there would be no such thing as EU law’, Mr Eustice said.

 

Summing up his key motivations for Brexit, he said: 2I believe there is a special value in having the ability to act, to decide and to get things done.

 

"Where we have control we can bring clarity and consistency. We are more agile. We can act decisively and quickly to deliver change where change is required.

 

"But where power has been ceded to the EU, we see inertia, inconsistency and indecision."


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Response

Former Farming Minister and member of the Farmers for In group Sir Jim Paice, said:

 

“Farmers for Britain are painting an unbelievably rosy picture of life outside the European Union.

 

We all know how much more important agriculture is to many other members of the EU and our farmers gain from that. The notion that walking away will give us all the beneficial terms we get now is fanciful.

"It may be that in time we can negotiate continued access, but we will still have to comply with all their regulations and maybe any more they devise.

 

"The idea that regulations are only because of the EU is absurd. Our lobby groups will still be here and in many cases are stronger domestically and our civil servants are just as inventive as those from Brussels.

"I have little doubt that if we vote to leave the UK the Basic Farm Payment will still be paid for a while, not least because we won’t actually leave overnight. But it won’t last long.

 

"Those supporting leave say that because of the money saved by not paying the EU, not only would farm payments be protected, but perhaps even more could be paid.

 

I don’t believe that future governments will indefinitely continue to fund farming subsidies against a raft of other priorities such as the NHS, Education and Security.

 

"Given that the last three governments have all called for the CAP to be cut or scrapped it is not credible to argue that subsidies will last forever.

“The EU and the CAP are far from perfect but the risk to farming from being outside are immense and a gamble we cannot afford”.

Who is backing Farmers for Britain?

Name Farm Region
Dr Mary Abbott Former editor of Inside Track magazine/ fruit farmer South West
Stuart Agnew MEP MEP representing the East of England East
Johnnie Arkwright Hatton Estate owner West Midlands
Colin Barker Longfield Farm East
Nigel Baxter Baxter Farming East Midlands
James Boughey Piddletrenthide Farms South West
Duff Burrell Ex-chairman National Beef Association North East
Alistair Cargill Cargill Farms Ltd East
Alan Carter Woodhill Farm South West
Andrew RT Davies MP MP for Shipley West Yorkshire
Patrick de Pelet Lowther Park Farms Limited South West
Charles Dingwall C & J Dingwall South East
John Dodd J W & G A Dodd South West
Maurice Durbin Dairy Farmer, Somerset South West
David Eyles Retired farmer South West
Charlie Flindt Farmer and Columnist at Farmers' Weekly South East
Jamie Foster Agricultural Solicitor South West
Richard Haddock Brokenbury Quarry South West
David Handley Chairman - Farmers for Action South East
Matthew Herriott Agricultural Contractor of The White House Farm North East
Wanda Hill Quarry Farm South
Mathew House Mathew House South West
John Howard Heslaker Farm North Yorkshire
Leslie Kaye Couchmans Farm West Midlands
Chris Kynaston Nant Ucha Farm Wales
Elizabeth Lewis Scientific & Regulatory adviser, Feed Ingredients Wales
Chris Loder Ryalls Farm South West
John Loftus Mixed Farmer, Preese Hall North West
Stephen Lomax Bow Wood Farms LImited Wales
Rupert Lowe Ravenswell Farmhouse South West
Keith MacMillan Land Owner North West
John Mason Mason Farms LLP South West
James Mcilwraith Solland Stud Farm South West
Alison Monk Former Economics Lecturer at Harper Adams University Yorkshire
Tim Page TAC Page & Partners Wiltshire
Robert Pascall Clock House Farm South East
Malcolm and Judy Pearce Lady Farm South West
Geoff Pickering Farmer Yorkshire
Colin Martin Rayne J Rayner & Sons Ltd East
Ben Redman Herd Manager South East
Matt Ridley Blagdon Hall North East
Andy Saunders Scotch Coultard North East
Michael Seals Hall Farm East Midlands
William Henry Slinger Spring House Farm North West
India Snow Hill Farm South West
Philip Tong Ash Tree Farm East Midlands
Gini Trower Stanstead Bury Farm East
Joe Wheeler Assistant Herd Manager West Midlands
Tom White Turville Park Farm South East
Lady Ann and Sir Nicholas Winterton Whitehall Farm North West
Stephen Withers Upper Hundalee Farm Scotland
Bill and Eric Wright Wright's Agriculture Ltd. East Midlands
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