UK farm subsidies to be dealt out on ‘environmental merit’ after Brexit

The UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will outline the future of income support for British farmers after Brexit in a speech today, July 21.

Michael Gove will criticise the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) for rewarding the wealthy and will say British farmers will only be able to access subsidies “if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear”.

The Conservative government has promised to provide similar levels of support to the CAP until 2022, when it is expected to cut ‘Pillar 1’ funding – which makes up 80% of farm income support.

After that, the Tories will only retain ‘Pillar 2’ support, which relates to environmental and social public goods, with Gove’s comments appearing to reaffirm this objective.

According to figures from a report published earlier this week – ‘A Food Brexit: time to get real’ – £3.7 billion (€4.1 billion) in subsidies is used to support UK farm incomes every year.

In today’s speech, Gove will say: “Leaving the EU gives us a once in a lifetime opportunity to reform how we care for our land, our rivers and our seas, how we recast our ambitions for our country’s environment, and the planet.

“There are very good reasons why we should provide support for agriculture. 70% of our land is farmed; beautiful landscape has not happened by accident but has been actively managed.

I want to ensure we go on generously supporting farmers for many more years to come. But that support can only be argued for against other competing public goods if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear.

As well as facing the loss of the CAP, UK farm businesses have already come under pressure from Brexit due to the loss of seasonal agricultural workers from countries like Bulgaria and Romania.

England’s National Farmers’ Union previously published research showing a 17% decline in the number of seasonal workers required for this season’s fruit and vegetable harvest.