Little progress has been made on the development of a post-Brexit devolved structure, with few hard facts emerging from talks between the UK Government and the devolved administrations, a Scottish Parliament committee has heard.
Professor Colin Reid of Dundee University told the Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform Committee there were fundamental decisions to be made about whether regulatory power would be decided centrally within a UK framework or devolved.
The EU Withdrawal Bill, which contains the controversial ‘power grab’ clause opposed by the Scottish and Welsh Governments is currently with the House of Lords for consideration, further delaying progress.
Jonnie Hall, policy director of NFU Scotland explained how Brexit throws up opportunities for regulatory divergence within the UK.
He said: “Pesticide policy has the potential to distort internal UK agricultural trade by allowing certain plant protection products in one part of the UK but not in Scotland. This would be a big problem.
“The issue of biotechnology and gene editing is a vexed one and cannot be brushed under the carpet. Clearly, there are diverging views across the UK. We will all have to wrestle with those issues at some point.”
Another issue holding up progress on the development of devolved agricultural policies is cash, with the Scottish Government demanding clarity on pre- and post-Brexit funding to enable it to plan ahead.
But speaking at the annual SAOS conference last week, Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing complained the UK response to post-Brexit funding had been ‘less than satisfactory’.
Former deputy Prime Minister Damian Green had until his resignation been heavily involved in the negotiations, and reportedly commented that the Scottish Government seemed intent on ‘going to war’ over hill farming support.
“That would be correct”, Mr Ewing said.
“Without continued support many hill farmers would simply cease production. This would in turn lead to land abandonment and the sort of loss of landscape which would affect tourism very badly.”
The Scottish Parliament can choose from one of two options for agreeing regulation post-Brexit.