The Leave campaign has pledged current UK farm spending would be maintained until 2020 if the UK votes to leave the EU next week, although there is no commitment to match EU spending beyond that date.
The Leave camp has, nonetheless, been accused of ‘taking farmers for fools’ by claiming a UK Government would be in a position to maintain current EU funding across a range of sectors.
Thirteen pro-Brexit Government ministers and senior Conservatives made a commitment on Tuesday to maintain spending levels for ‘every region, group and recipient of EU funding’. These include universities, scientists, family farmers, regional funds and cultural organisations.
In an open letter, the signatories - who include Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and Farming Minister George Eustice - assured these groups ‘their funding is safe if we Vote Leave’.
UK farmers currently receive about £3bn a year under the CAP, the current version of which runs until 2020.
The Leave campaigners claimed the UK would have ‘more than enough money’ to maintain funding these funding commitments, once again citing the controversial £350 million a week, or £19bn a year ,they say the UK would save by voting to leave.
Remain campaigners point out the net figure, and therefore the real saving, is half this.
The letter said: “There is more than enough money to ensure that those who now get funding from the EU will continue to do so while also ensuring that we save money that can be spent on our priorities.
“If the public votes to leave on 23 June, we will continue to fund EU programmes in the UK until 2020, or up to the date when the EU is due to conclude individual programmes if that is earlier than 2020.
‘We will also be able to spend the money much more effectively. For example, some of the bureaucracy around payments to farmers is very damaging and can be scrapped once we take back control.”
In the letter, which fell short of any commitment to maintain farm support levels beyond 2020, the Leave campaigners sought to turn the tables, pointing out EU agricultural support was in decline.
They said: “The real danger to current recipients of funding from the EU institutions is that if we vote to remain the EU will further reduce their funding.”
They added: “After protecting those now in receipt of EU funding, we will still have billions more to spend on our priorities.”
But responding for the Remain campaign, Sir Peter Kendall, AHDB chairman and former NFU president, said:
“The leave campaigners are taking farmers for fools. The majority of experts agree that the damage to the economy from leaving the EU would far outweigh any claimed savings.
"Yet still the Leave campaign pledge to fund farming, the science community and local initiatives to the same level as now.
“Farmers are practical people and have to do basic sums on a daily basis; we know that the magical money tree doesn’t exist. Promising to spend the same money many times over when experts say it will be in short supply is simply being dishonest."
Britain Stronger in Europe pointed to a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies suggesting there would be a’ £20-£40bn black hole in the public finances’ if the UK voted to leave.
It said the Leave campaign had made 24 spending commitments totalling over £113bn, more than 10 ten times the claimed £10bn net saving from our leaving Europe.
Britain Stronger in Europe has also published research it said revealed how important support was to farmers who are facing unprecedented price volatility and extreme weather events.
Around 3,130 farms in Yorkshire and the North East would make a loss without CAP support, according to analysis. This amounts to 15 per cent of farms across the whole region.
Sir Peter said: “The overwhelming opinion of independent economic experts is that leaving the EU would hit our economy, threatening jobs, growth and investment."