First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones has suggested the devolved regions should give up their responsibility for animal health and return those powers to the UK Government.
In a debate on EU transition in the Welsh Assembly, Mr Jones said he believed it would ‘make sense to have one coherent policy across Great Britain’.
His comments were blasted by Scottish Government leaders, who said Scotland would push for more devolved powers, not less.
Others said such a move would be ‘backward’ when Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland had pushed so vehemently for decentralisation in the past.
Mr Jones said: “There is no sense in having three different systems of animal health across Great Britain. The reality is it makes sense to have an agreement between the three Governments, with a common system,” he added.
“There may be an argument of having a common framework for agriculture, so that there are no barriers erected within the UK to trade within the UK. That I can see as being something that would have merit.”
The remarks have received a mixed response from industry chiefs, but some have welcomed a more centralised approach.
The National Sheep Association (NSA) said a UK-wide policy would simplify things for farmers living in border counties who experience ongoing struggles with policy differences between nations.
NSA chief executive Phil Stocker said: “NSA would welcome any moves to have common overarching animal health and disease control measures in the UK, and this is something the organisation has been asking of all our nations for some time.
“The trade of sheep across borders is common, not to mention the fact diseases and parasite pressures do not change at borders.”
Mr Jones’ comments about a common animal health policy were surprising given the huge differences between the UK Government and the Welsh Government’s approaches to tackling bovine TB.
Cabinet Secretary for rural affairs in Wales Lesley Griffiths recently announced a ‘refreshed’ policy on bTB which ruled out a badger cull, claiming there was little understanding of how TB spreads between cattle and badgers.
Across the border in England, Defra is pushing through a strategy for dealing with the disease which includes culling badgers.
The remarks also appeared to be out of step with comments made by the Welsh Government’s director of agriculture Andrew Slade at the NFU Cymru conference.
Mr Slade told the audience one of Cardiff’s top three Brexit priorities was protecting the devolution settlement and said striking the right ‘tone’ in talks with the UK Government would be key to ensuring Wales gets legal responsibilities for farming which currently reside with the EU.
But the Welsh Government’s commitment to keeping devolved powers in place was criticised by farmer Jonathan Wilkinson, who said maintaining the devolution settlement was less important to farmers than politicians and expressed concern about grandstanding from both sides getting in the way of a good Brexit deal for agriculture.
A Scottish Government spokesman strongly rejected the idea of returning powers to Westminster, saying it would instead seek ‘substantial additional powers’ for Holyrood as part of the Brexit talks.
“There can be absolutely no question of the UK Government attempting to reserve powers currently devolved.”
Defra refused to confirm or deny suggestions Westminster could again take control of animal health policy. A spokesman would not comment other than to say the department ‘will work to ensure the best possible outcome’ for the farming community.