The UK’s internal market will not be distorted if Scottish farmers keep their direct payments after Brexit, Defra Secretary George Eustice has said.
Last week, Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing told farmers attending the virtual AgriScot conference that direct support was ‘earned income’ and he was ‘personally committed’ to keeping it.
Plans outlined in 2018 by the Scottish Government already ensure farmers will keep their direct payments until at least 2024.
Farm groups have previously raised concerns that extensive divergence in farm support across the four nations of the UK will distort the internal market, but Mr Eustice disagreed.
Speaking at the CLA’s Rural Powerhouse event this week (November 23), he said: “In terms of whether [divergence] has a big distorting effect on the market, our estimate to date is it probably does not.
“There is a fallacy that the Common Agricultural Policy delivered a level playing field. It did nothing of the sort.
“Farmers in the Netherlands already get about three times more subsidy than farmers in England.
“Farmers in Poland get a fraction of the area payment farmers in England do, so throughout the EU, despite this policy, there was no level playing field.
“We are not going to be distracted by what Scotland may or may not do. We will be pursuing a policy which delivers profitable agriculture.”
Dr Nick Fenwick, head of policy at the Farmers Union of Wales, said the Scottish Government was ‘more in touch with the economic realities of farming’ than its counterparts in England and Wales.
“However, this will not help Welsh and English farmers who may be going through the financial turmoil of the abolition of income support after 2024, while competing in the same markets as the Scots,” he added.
“BPS payments in the Netherlands may be more than in England, but what is being proposed by Defra will increase the difference infinitely, because they will become zero in England and still be present elsewhere.
“Existing differences are being used by Mr Eustice as an argument for increasing those differences – and likely market distortion which disadvantages English farmers – which does not make any sense.”