A House of Lords committee has warned agricultural disputes between the UK Government and devolved nations will become ‘increasingly likely’ after Brexit.
In a new report on the Agriculture Bill, peers on the Constitution Committee said trade matters would be particularly prone to clashes because it is unclear whether the UK Government or devolved administrations are legally responsible for such issues.
In law, the UK Government is in charge of ‘regulation of international trade’, but the devolved nations have a responsibility to ensure international obligations are ‘observed and implemented’, leaving open the possibility of dispute.
The report recommends the UK Government engages with the devolved administrations about their interests when opening any new trade negotiations.
NFU Cymru president John Davies said: “I welcome the House of Lords report, particularly the call it makes for the UK Government to engage effectively with the devolved institutions on areas which involve devolved competence.
“This is only right because many of the obligations that will arise as a result of international treaties will have to be overseen and delivered on a devolved level.”
The committee goes on to call for inter-governmental relations to be improved in other areas, particularly around the need to agree common farming policy frameworks.
NFU Scotland (NFUS) political affairs manager Clare Slipper told Farmers Guardian UK and devolved Ministers were at an ‘advanced stage’ in discussions on UK-wide frameworks on a range of issues, but there was a risk that legislating before they were formally agreed could lead to regulatory divergence.
“This is a significant concern to NFUS, because the vast majority of Scottish produce is marketed and sold within a UK-wide single market,” she said.
“While NFUS wholly appreciates policy divergence is not the intention of the current Governments, the theoretical possibility which is created by the legislation is a significant concern.”
Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) president Glyn Roberts voiced similar unease.
He said: “In 2018, the FUW warned in its ‘Filling the Void’ document of the need for frameworks to ensure disputes between devolved regions do not arise.
“The document warned that discussion on the need for frameworks had effectively been brushed under the carpet, leaving a gaping void, and little has moved on since then.”