Farmers should not expect to see a light-touch approach to farm inspections after the UK leaves the EU, according to a new report.
The Senior European Experts paper, written by a group of high-ranking former British diplomats and civil servants, claims a new system of support based on public goods will require more controls and inspections than those needed to deliver the Basic Payment Scheme (BPS).
The report comes just one month after NFU Conference, where Defra Secretary Michael Gove announced a new review of the farm inspection regime, saying he wanted to ‘remove, reduce or improve’ inspections to cut red tape for farmers.
“Gove has denounced what he called ‘bureaucratic box-ticking’ and argued for fewer rules for financial support to farmers”, the paper reads.
“A fundamental problem here is payments for environmental services are in conflict with a lighter approach to farm inspection.
“Farmers complain about rules, but they like to receive subsidies. The payment of public money for green agriculture will require controls and inspections to ensure environmental services are actually provided.
“Such controls are more complicated and demanding than those needed for subsidies based on farm size or income.
“Parliament and the Treasury will wish to ensure the use of taxpayers’ money for green farming is adequately fraud-proofed and delivers real benefits.”
The paper also raised concerns about Mr Gove’s claim that tariff-free access for agri-food goods would be maintained after Brexit, suggesting it ‘remained to be seen’ how agriculture would be treated under a free trade agreement with the EU.
“One cannot be sure the EU will accept full liberalisation for agriculture”, the authors wrote.
“Although the EU-Canada Agreement provides free trade for most agricultural products, access for some sensitive products such as beef and cheese is limited to preferential quotas.
“The ratification process of this agreement showed how concerned rural areas such as Belgium’s Wallonia can be about agricultural imports.”