British farmers & crofters must be listened to in the debate on post-Brexit agriculture
Former Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael MP writes ahead of his Westminster Hall debate on ‘the policy framework for agriculture after the UK leaves the EU’.
Since Britain joined the Common Market in the 1970s the Common Agricultural Policy has been the dominant force in our agricultural industries. When the UK leaves the EU, it will be the first time for many farmers across the country that they will not be part of the CAP.
The UK agriculture secretary, Michael Gove, has indicated that the payment of financial support for farmers is guaranteed until 2024. This, he says, will give the industry some long term security. Anyone who thinks that five years is the “long term” in farming or crofting clearly does not understand the industry.
It is vital for our rural communities, many of whom are reliant on farming and crofting, that whatever replaces the CAP must be clear, easy, and it must work for them - and not just for one type of agricultural business. We have several different agriculture industries in the UK, and this new system must work for them all. It must work for farmers and crofters in the Northern Isles just as much as it works for the dairy farmers in the South, and the grain farmers in Lincolnshire.
Such a robust multifaceted system cannot be built overnight. It requires long term planning and engagement with the farming industry. Government planning on this issue remains, it seems, in its infancy. It is clear that ministers would eventually like to remove subsidy support from agriculture. In principle that seems fine, but in practice it could have a profound effect on how we work the land in communities like ours and would inevitably lead to higher food prices.
That is why it is so important that we start this debate now to shape government thinking. Farmers and crofters need to take long term decisions. They simply can’t invest without knowing what will happen to Government support in five years’ time. Agriculture doesn’t work like that.
It is not only membership of the CAP, which is affected by Brexit. Our food processing industry is heavily reliant on migrant labour, most of which currently comes from the EU. Will these workers still be available to food processing businesses? Let us also not forget that a huge number of Vets in the UK, especially those working at abattoirs, come from EU states.
Will the UK still be able to export food to the EU, or will it be subject to prohibitive import taxes? What will future trade deals look like? Will America flood the British market with cheap imported chlorinated chicken, and other foods which cut corners on animal welfare?
So many questions remain around the future of agriculture in this debate, and I want farmers and crofters to have their voice heard. I will look to raise these concerns during the debate, and I look forward to hearing the Minister, and the Government’s responses to these.
Rt Hon Alistair Carmichael is the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland