Michael Gove must not be bowled over by the Chancellor on agricultural subsidies
Former West Country farmer & MEP, Neil Parish MP, writes in advance of the election for Chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, in which he is a candidate. He writes 'It’s vital that Select Committees engage with, and contribute to, the development of government policy throughout this Brexit parliament'.
It’s going to be a critical decade for the food and farming industry. From the growing impact of technology, to Brexit and the restructuring of farming support payments, the landscape of British agriculture is set for a step-change.
As a former dairy farmer myself, I know we have a great farming industry with high-quality products. But we need to set the right conditions for this great British industry to thrive.
Leaving the EU means leaving the Common Agricultural Policy. For all my working life, CAP payments have been crucial to farmers’ livelihoods. Indeed, they make up around half of farm incomes. That financial guarantee for our farmers is the reason I voted to remain in the EU. In a spending round with competition from the NHS and Education budgets, I argued Defra’s budget would seem like easy pickings.
The new Defra Secretary, Michael Gove, must now resist being bowled over by the Chancellor. Some free market thinkers believe Britain’s departure from the CAP is a golden opportunity to drastically scale back — and even end — agricultural subsidies altogether.
This would be a mistake. We need to start re-making the case for targeted investment in our farmers and the rural economy. Farm support payments play a crucial role in delivering on climate change targets, on providing jobs, as well as ensuring protection for our precious wildlife and countryside.
Support payments are also essential for food security. British farming produces 61 per cent of our food. It is also the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, worth 108 billion to our economy. It makes no sense to weaken our farming sector to the extent we have to import more food from abroad.
Sensibly, the Government has guaranteed support payments until 2020, but the clock is now ticking on reform. Though in the first instance many elements of the CAP will be carried over into domestic law by the Great Repeal Bill, Brexit presents us with an opportunity to fundamentally review the objectives and design of our long-term agricultural policy, for the better.
If re-elected as chair of the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, I want to launch an inquiry into replacing the CAP and designing a new domestic support payment system for British agriculture. It’s vital that Select Committees engage with, and contribute to, the development of government policy throughout this Brexit parliament.
Excessive regulation, delayed support payments from the RPA and price volatility convinced many farmers they actually wanted to leave the EU and the CAP. It’s vital that we listen to the views of the food and farming community as we approach this monumental task. While this may be a period of upheaval for many farmers, it can also be a period of opportunity. Free from EU regulations and restraints, we will be able to create a tailored support scheme for farmers that better recognises our specific needs and environmental circumstances.
Eighty five per cent of people think it is important that Britain has a productive and resilient farming industry. You can count me in. I will not allow food and farming to be side-lined, whilst other industries like financial services and car-making get the Government’s primary attention. Now, more than ever, we need British agriculture’s voice to be heard.
Neil Parish is the Conservative MP for Tiverton & Honiton