EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan and UKIP MEP, Stuart Agnew debated whether the farming industry would be better off in or out of the European Union
More than 200 farmers from across Wales were urged by EU Agriculture Commissioner, Phil Hogan, last night (Tuesday, May 10) not to leave the European Union, while UKIP MEP, Stuart Agnew, told them the EU had ’passed its sell by date’.
While there was no show of hands to gauge how the audience would vote in next month’s referendum questions came thick and fast – pointing to there being a dearth of information one way or the other.
The Hogan view was that the levels of farm income support could not be guaranteed if the vote went in favour of leaving. He also claimed it would take eight to 10 years to forge new trade agreements.
Responding, Mr Agnew claimed that was ’nonsense’ pointing to there being several countries ’surviving without a marriage’ with the EU.
“The UK exports £170 million worth of lamb to France yet we import £650 million worth of French wine, while Spain takes £40 million worth of our beef and we import £550 million worth of fruit and vegetables,” he said.
“Neither country is going to turn us away and rock the boat.”
Pressing home that Wales was a net beneficiary of EU financial support under the CAP, Mr Hogan said those in favour of leaving the EU argued that the UK could design an agricultural policy which served farming better than the CAP.
“That is perfectly true as an untested hypothesis, but to the best of my knowledge no-one has put any flesh on the bones of this claim,” he added.
“Some published plans describe a post-Brexit British agricultural policy of £2 billion per year – a third less than the £3bn received from the CAP this year and every year up to 2020.
“But what we can say with absolute certainty is that the CAP provides stability to farmers and agri-businesses. It is a legally binding contract between the EU and farmers up to 2020.
“Outside the EU, agricultural spending would be subject to the same annual review by the British Treasury as any other department. Can Welsh farmers compete with the City of London, doctors, nurses and schools in such a review?” he asked.
“No major institution – be it agricultural, political, economic, financial or cultural – has made a compelling case that UK farmers would be better off outside the CAP.
“Nor has any politician or organisation in favour of Brexit described in any meaningful detail what a UK-only agricultural policy would look like, or how it would operate, at home and abroad.”
Mr Agnew, an MEP for the East of England, said that between 1972 and 1984 farmers could not criticise the CAP.
“Money just poured in - but ever since the value of support has steadily diminished. Once it was worth 50 per cent of output but last year it was worth no more than 20 per cent and you have to wait months to get it.
“I can see that only getting worse as poorer new countries join the EU and take out more of the budget.
“More and more these countries will also vote as a single block, with the UK largely being outvoted when it comes to regulations important to the UK.
“By coming out of the EU we would be able to decide for ourselves what regulations we wanted rather than having to endure unnecessary red tape coming from faceless bureaucrats in Brussels.
“I can also see Pillar 2 money being used to fund rural resettlement grants for the massive influx of refugees, so when 2020 comes around there could be even less money available for agriculture.”
Chairing the debate was Royal Welsh Agricultural Society board of management chairman and Pembrokeshire farmer, John Davies, who urged every farmer to weigh up all the options carefully but above all to make sure every vote counted on June 23.