Confusion about whether farmers will continue to be bound by Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) rules during any Brexit transition period has been building since the Prime Minister agreed a ‘divorce deal’ with the EU last week.
The agreement on the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU has been widely welcomed because it paves the way for talks on trade, but the small print has thrown up a number of questions for agricultural policy.
Last month, Scottish Office Minister Ian Duncan said it was the Government’s ‘clear negotiating position’ for the UK to ditch the CAP in March 2019 – meaning British farmers would not have to follow CAP rules during the two-year transition period proposed by the Prime Minister.
It is also Government policy to maintain farm payments at EU levels until 2022.
But under the terms of the divorce deal, the UK has promised to pay for the CAP – which is just under 40 per cent of the EU budget – for the year 2019, prompting questions about why Britain would continue to fork out for a policy it was not a part of, on top of paying for a new domestic scheme.
Asked whether the UK would stay in the CAP to draw down payments it is due during a future transition period, Defra seemed to suggest the possibility was up for negotiation.
A spokesman said: “Leaving the EU means we will leave the CAP.
“The next steps will be discussed in the next phase of the negotiations.”
The EU, like some cabinet ministers, is reportedly pushing for a ‘status quo’ transition period, which would see the UK continue to apply CAP rules.
But despite appearing to leave the option of staying in the CAP during transition on the table, Defra also insisted the Agriculture Bill would still be published next spring.
Farming Minister George Eustice has previously told Farmers Guardian the Bill would begin the move from an area-based system to ‘something more targeted’, but if CAP rules continue to apply up until 2021 – the end of the transition period – these changes would not be possible.
CLA president Tim Breitmeyer said: “The latest Brexit breakthrough is welcome progress for farming.
“However, Defra appears to be deliberately vague about the future of the industry, particularly whether it has committed the UK to remaining within the CAP during the transitional period after the UK leaves the EU. Farmers deserve more certainty.
“We need strong leadership from the Government rather than contradictions and platitudes.”