Yesterday Farm minister George Eustice spoke again about what a UK farming policy might look like, post-Brexit – at the launch of Farmers for Britain. One has to assume that Eustice is right behind FFB, if he is willing to speak at their launch.
His speech gives us a few more glimpses of his vision, compared with his previous utterances.
He announced that he has asked farming unions and environmental NGOs to come up with suggestions for what a post-brexit farm policy should be.
“I want them to be ready for change and to be part of it” he said, somewhat patronisingly. We’re all going to be part of the change whether we like it or not! Whether anyone will be ready for it is another matter.
Eustice reiterated that he wanted UK farms plc to be based on “science and technology” and specifically name-checked GMOs, or “gene editing” as he put it euphemistically. I suspect this is because there is a fair chunk of the Brexit vote who are suspicious of GM crops. He also alluded to the ban on neonics imposed on the UK by the EU, stating that a new regulatory regime would be based on ahem “science and evidence” not politics. This is code for “we will follow NFU’s guidance even more than we have until now, ignoring the science and evidence about the impact of neonics on the environment, and allowing them to be freely used everywhere”.
Eustice also repeated his desire to do away with Cross Compliance and annual subsidy applications, replacing the whole lot with a simpler scheme. This time he went into a bit more detail, suggesting farmers would receive their farm payment if they sign up to a “privately operated” accreditation scheme such as Red Tractor. Red Tractor currently depends, at least in part, on Cross Compliance monitoring to show that farms are complying with its rules. Take away Cross Compliance and you either have an unmonitored Assurance Scheme (which would probably concern UKAS) or Red Tractor would have to introduce its own compliance monitoring, paid for by the farmers. I’d like to see a lot more detail about how a Red Tractor only compliance system worked. It’s also fair to say that Red Tractor does not monitor things which Cross Compliance does, and vice versa.
Eustice returned to the idea of a UK agri-environment scheme which would be “simpler and broader” than the current EU one, and included animal welfare. To my mind simpler and broader, means a return to the Entry Level approach, free for all to enter, untargeted, unmonitored, delivering very little public benefit for a great deal of taxpayers money. This is something that UKIP has already stated it would do.
Eustice’s speech was published on the website of Farmers for Britain, which is in turn linked to the website of Vote Leave. The Vote Leave Brexit campaign is led by Dominic “Colonel Kurtz” Cummings, who did so much damage to our Education system as Michael Gove’s personal guru. Vote Leave Director is Matthew Elliott, a key player in the corporate-libertarian nexus, former Director of the so-called “Taxpayers Alliance” and founder of Politics and Economics Research Trust, a charity which is currently being investigated by the Charities Commission for illegal political activity.
I thought it would be useful to have a look at what Farmers for Britain want to do, after Brexit: these are the things they want done (I have summarised them) with my comments in italics
- Increase food production. This would take us back to the bad old days of overproduction when the UK contributed to Grain Mountain, Milk lakes and Butter Seas.
- Increase subsidies for Dairy farmers. If we want a Dairy industry in the UK, do we want intensive super dairies with their large environmental impact, or small low intensity farms producing high quality milk?
- Get rid of Red Tape. These are Regulations which protect the environment, animal welfare, human health etc from the serious impacts of modern intensive farming.
- Pay farmers more per hectare than they currently get. What are we getting for our current subsidy, let alone an increased public subsidy?
- Protect the environment by spending more money on flood defences. Nothing to do with the Environment: Code for more dredging.
I suggest you ignore Eustice’s claims about what a post-Brexit farm policy might look like, and focus on Farmers for Britain’s proposals. They will be much closer to what the NFU want, and the NFU will be in an even stronger position to influence Defra post-Brexit than they are now.