EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has urged UK farmers to seek assurances from the Treasury about the Government’s commitment to providing support for farmers, if the UK leaves the EU.
EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan has waded into the Brexit debate, suggesting UK farmers would struggle to maintain the same level of support outside the EU.
Mr Hogan told Farmers Guardian the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) budget was fixed until 2020 and that he would fight to retain it at current levels beyond that date.
But, outside the EU there could be no such guarantees for UK farmers, he suggested.
Launching the Farmers for Britain campaign on Wednesday, Farming Minister George Eustice said:“Let us get one thing straight. The UK Government will continue to give farmers and the environment as much support – or perhaps even more – as they get now."
He claimed this would be possible as a result of the money UK saves by leaving the EU.
But speaking in Brussels on Tuesday, Mr Hogan said: “We have a new budget in 2020. UK farmers know they are guaranteed their payments between now and 2020.
“If they are not part of the EU I don’t know where they will get their money from in the future because as, you can see from recent days (a reference to last week’s budget), it is not easy to get money to reduce deficits.”
He pointed out the Treasury has already ring-fenced spending in areas overseas development aid, health and defence spending, which will put other areas, such as farming, under pressure.
The Commissioner suggested farmers would be ‘fearful’ they would find it ‘more difficult in future to find the resources in the UK’, if the UK was no longer part of the EU.
Mr Hogan added: “These are issues for the British farmer to consider. If you do leave the EU you have to think long and hard and get assurances from the Treasury that you are going to continue getting £2bn per annum.”
He insisted, despite the pressures also on the EU budget, it was realistic for him to fight to retain the post-2020 CAP budget at current levels because of the wider benefits associated with the policy.
He said the 38 per cent of the EU budget spent on the CAP provides goods in terms of the environment, healthy living, nutrition and trade, as well as creating rural jobs.
This is on top of ‘keeping farmers on the land and providing good quality food, not just in Europe but there is a moral obligation to feed people around the world’, he said.
Mr Hogan also highlighted how he was simplifying the CAP, including having already made 25 changes ‘helpful to farmers’.
Prime Minister David Cameron has promised a Conservative Government would continue to support farmers in the event of Brexit, although he did not specify a figure.
Country Land and Business Association head of external affairs Shane Brennan said the UK Government needed to give a commitment about retaining farm payments to the levels provided by the CAP to 2020.
He said: “If we vote to exit, every day that goes past after the referendum that Ministers don’t confirm that farmers will get their payments to the end of 2020 will generate huge uncertainty and massively reinforce the crisis that everybody is facing in agriculture.”