European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan has spoken exclusively to Farmers Guardian about the implications of Brexit on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). But would farmers really be worse off if the UK left the European Union? Bruce Jobson reports.
Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies are critically important to farming, the rural economy and rural employment and various regions within the UK would struggle without them in the event of Brexit.
European Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development Phil Hogan, who is touring the country to take part in a series of Brexit debates, stressed the importance of subsidies and the fact many businesses would be unable to operate without them.
“For example, Wales is a net beneficiary of EU CAP support and receives more funding than it contributes,” said Mr Hogan.
“There are approximately 60,000 people working on farms in Wales and this employment helps sustain the rural economy and infrastructure.
“Farm support in Northern Ireland is worth more than £2.3 billion over the current financial period from 2014-2020.”
He said annual payments from the EU to Northern Ireland accounted for 87 per cent of annual farm incomes, compared to 53 per cent in the rest of the UK.
“For every £10 Northern Irish farmers earn, the CAP accounts for £8.70 of that total,” he added. “If it was not for EU assistance, many farms would generate significant losses and in cases, even fail to survive.”
Mr Hogan stressed outside the EU, agricultural spending would be subject to the same annual review by the British Treasury as any other Government department, meaning there would be no guarantee about the level of support UK farmers would receive.
He said UK farmers could lose out on the 500 million-strong EU market should Brexit occur and stated the EU was currently engaged in a range of trade initiatives with China, Japan and the US.
In addition, he voiced his concern as to whether a replacement UK farm support mechanism would be as generous to British farmers, compared to the current level of support provided under the CAP.
There was also the possibility that it would take up to ten years to negotiate new trade agreements with the EU, he said.
Mr Hogan, a former Irish Environment Minister, expressed his concern regarding the close working relationship between the Republic and the UK.
He said: “There are almost 200,000 people in the Republic working in sectors that benefit from the export relationship with the UK.
“More than 600,000 Irish citizens also travel back and forth on a regular basis to work in the UK. All these relationships and trade would be put at risk if the UK left the EU.
“A fear for politicians in Dublin is that Ireland could become a back-door entry point to the UK.
"There is a virtually invisible border between the two countries at present, but if Brexit occurs that would no longer be the case, leading to the creation of ‘fortress Northern Ireland and a fortress Britain’.
“Another fear is that migrants would use freedom of movement within the EU to travel to Ireland with the aim of being smuggled into Britain. “There is a concern about Dundalk being turned into a ‘Calais situation’ and our border towns would become a back-door entry point into the UK.”