Agriculture in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland faces an uncertain future after Brexit according to a new study from the Centre on Constitutional Change.
The research, conducted by the Centre’s director, Professor Michael Keating, investigated the challenges presented by UK policymaking being heavily influenced by the needs of agriculture in England, which are quite different from those in the devolved territories. In the light of this, Keating suggests, the question of subsidies after 2022 needs to be clarified by ministers.
Prof Keating explained that:
“Currently, agriculture is financed through the Common Agricultural Policy but the UK Government has guaranteed continuing support only up to the end of the current Parliament in 2022. After that, direct payments to farmers in England will be phased out.
“Policy for England, however, may not suit conditions in the devolved nations. Around half of farm incomes in England come from the CAP but in Scotland it is three quarters, in Wales it is 80 per cent and in Northern Ireland 87 per cent.
“In part this is caused by 85 per cent of farm land in Scotland being in ‘areas of natural constraint’ such as hill farms, in Wales this is 81 per cent in Wales and 70 per cent in Northern Ireland, compared with only 17 per cent of farm land in England.”
The report considers the implications of Brexit for agriculture policy, which is currently devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It highlights that this is an area where devolved governments have recently had increasing scope to make their own choices as CAP rules have become more flexible. For example, Michael Gove, the minister responsible for agriculture in England, has suggested capping payments for the wealthiest farmers after leaving the CAP. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already do this within the CAP.
Keating demonstrates that, “This flexibility has allowed the devolved governments to tailor agricultural policy to local needs, balancing economic with social, environmental and cultural conditions. We still do not know how much flexibility they will have after Brexit.
“Although the devolved nations currently benefit greatly from CAP funding, this is as a result of greater need. Scotland and Wales receive more than twice the funds per capita than England. Northern Ireland gets four times as much. If this money were put into the block grant and subjected to the Barnett Formula, this would allow them to keep their relative advantage and to use the funds flexibly. Whatever happens to agricultural competences, trade rules will remain the responsibility of the UK Government.
“It is more likely, however, that the money will be subject to a specific formula, perhaps linked to a new UK agricultural framework. In either case, as support for agriculture in England is reduced, the amounts coming to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will also come down over time.
“The EU Withdrawal Bill currently before Parliament will take back devolved agricultural competences to Westminster, allowing some of them to be ‘released’ according to the needs of the Brexit settlement. Already there are discussions about what powers will be retained and what devolved. The danger is that a piecemeal approach will make it more difficult for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to forge coherent agricultural and rural development policies tailored to their own conditions.”
Read the study here - The Repatriation of Competences in Agriculture after Brexit