Defra’s long-awaited consultation on the future of agricultural policy does not provide any clarity on whether farmers will continue to be bound by EU rules during any Brexit transition period.
In November last year, Scottish Office Minister Ian Duncan said it was the Government’s ‘clear negotiating position’ for the UK to ditch the CAP in March 2019 – meaning British farmers would not have to follow CAP rules during transition.
But under the terms of the Brexit ‘divorce deal’, which the Commission is due to publish a draft legal text of tomorrow, the UK promised to pay for the CAP for the year 2019, prompting questions about why Britain would continue to fork out for a policy it was not a part of, on top of paying for a new domestic scheme.
When asked at the time whether the UK would stay in the CAP to draw down payments it is due during transition, Defra seemed to suggest the possibility was up for negotiation, and the consultation also appears to leave the option open.
It says: “We will formally leave the European Union in March 2019. The government anticipates that we will agree an implementation period for the whole country with the EU lasting for around another two years.
“Once we have the freedom to move away from the CAP, there will be an ‘agricultural transition’ period in England. This will give farmers time to prepare for new trading relationships and an environmental land management system.”
When quizzed on the matter at NFU conference last week, Defra Secretary Michael Gove hinted the UK could, to all intents and purposes, stay in the CAP.
He said: “At the moment, we are in negotiation with the EU about the shape and nature of the specific transition/implementation period which will last for around two years from March 2019.
“We are so close now to legal text being produced and more being said that I do not want to pre-empt something which is going to be shared in the course of the next few weeks.
“All I would say is, formally, in March 2019, we will be outside the CAP, but of course it is in the nature of the implementation period we agreed that we will follow EU law and EU rules in a number of areas.
“The precise way in which we will do so will be outlined when the nature of the implementation period is shared in a few weeks’ time.”
If the Government were to continue to follow CAP rules during transition – which the UK wants to end in March 2021 and the EU wants to end in December 2020 – it would still be able to reduce payments for the largest farmers.
In Northern Ireland, payments are already capped at €150,000, and in Scotland, at €600,000. Wales also applies a reduction mechanism which starts capping payments as of €150,000 by a certain percentage.