Farming leaders’ battle for cash and power post-Brexit intensified this week after the UK Government was accused of preparing an EU Withdrawal Bill which disrespected ’hard-won devolution settlements’.
Agriculture was once again at the centre of the row, with Welsh and Scottish Ministers rallying to ensure powers currently in the EU went straight back to their respective nations.
Speaking in Holyrood, the Scottish Government’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell recommended rejection of the EU Withdrawal Bill.
He said: “We do not believe the hill farmers of Argyll, in my constituency, would be better served by policy on Less Favoured Area support being made in London where such support will never be needed and where knowledge of its vital nature is scanty or non-existent.”
It was followed by a joint letter by First Ministers Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones who called for a Bill which ‘worked with, not against’ devolution.
“The current Bill will need to be substantially amended for us to be able to recommend to our respective legislatures that they give their consent to it,” the letter said.
First Secretary of State Damian Green said the lists which the UK Government shared with the Scottish and Welsh Governments several weeks ago contained 111 and 64 policy areas respectively which are currently controlled by the EU and were now coming back to the UK.
He said examples where a ‘common approach’ could help UK companies and customers were around food labelling, infectious diseases in animals and chemicals regulation.
Defra Secretary Michael Gove added fuel to the fire when he said Westminster would not hand over £160 million in convergence uplift money to Scotland, claiming the decision to spread the money across the UK would be ‘difficult to unpick’.
The money was granted to the UK by the EU in 2014 because of low area payments in Scotland.
But despite promising to speak to Scottish Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing about the cash, Mr Gove told the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee: “I completely understand why people feel the way they do”, he said.
“But I think the decision having been taken in the way it was is difficult to unpick. One of the things I want to do is to ensure in the future we do right by Scottish farmers.
“It is one of those situations where it is very difficult to unscramble the omelette.”
In May, Farming Minister George Eustice infuriated his SNP colleagues in the House of Commons by claiming discussions on the money had been thrown off course by Brexit.