‘Lacking specifics and urgency’: May’s Government slammed over agri plans

A report penned by Westminster’s Environment, Food and Rural Affairs committee has slammed the UK Government for “lacking specifics and urgency” over its post-Brexit agriculture policy.

Less than a year until Brexit formally takes place, aside from vague assurances, there have not yet been any concrete details on what future support will exist for farmers.

MPs weighed in on the matter saying they were “concerned” to hear that minimal discussions had taken place between the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Treasury.

Supporting the same aims

They welcomed “the level of ambition” in Defra’s consultation and said they support its aim to create a new funding model based on using public money to pay for public goods.

However, the report added that there had been no thorough analysis of the effect of withdrawing direct payments.

They called on the Government to ring-fence the funds released from the withdrawal of direct payments post-Brexit to fund the rural economy and the environment.

The report, which was published this week, also recommended trials into funding animal health and welfare improvements during the Brexit transition period as well as the creation of new tax breaks to help farmers to invest in technology.

It stated: “There was a legitimate fear among our witnesses that without early commitments to funding levels, well in advance of 2022, promises on funding levels following the transition period cannot be ‘guaranteed’.”

Integrating benefits

The report was positive about many aspects of the Government’s vision; however, it added that not enough had been done to ensure it would become a reality.

“[The Government] should seek to deliver public support for the integration of managing the land for environmental benefits and profitable food production. We are, however, concerned at the absence of detail in the consultation,” the report added.

Too many central tenets of the policy remain unclear. Without clarity on funding, timing and delivery of the future agricultural policy, there is a risk that Defra’s welcome ambitions will not be met.

“We look forward to receiving clarification and the opportunity to provide pre-legislative scrutiny well before the introduction of the Agriculture Bill.”

There was no direct mention of Northern Ireland in the report. However, it made the recommendation that common standards for plant and animal health would be agreed at UK-level to maintain the UK’s own single market across devolved regions post-Brexit.

It also called on the Government to give clarity to English farmers on:
  • The timing and length of the “agricultural transition” period that gives farm businesses a reasonable time to plan and adapt;
  • The status of cross-compliance and “greening” conditionality during the transition period; and
  • That all existing environmental schemes will be supported to their completion.