NFU president wants smart transition from EU policy

Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers' Union.
Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers' Union.
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Farmers are desperate for more answers from government on what transitional arrangements will be put in place when their industry is weaned off the European Union’s agricultural policy, the president of the National Farmers’ Union has said.

With just 18 months to go until Britain is scheduled to formally exit EU membership, Meurig Raymond urged Whitehall decision makers to set out their plans for the industry as early as possible to give farmers some much needed confidence in the future.

His plea came as the union, which represents more than 55,000 farmers in England and Wales, set out its own proposed three-phase approach to move to a “new, bold and ambitious” domestic agricultural policy outside of the European Union.

The NFU envisages an initial two-year phase where existing measures under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, would be largely preserved, but adjusted where opportunities for minor improvements present themselves. All the while, work should begin to test and pilot ideas for Britain’s new system of farm support and regulation.

In the second transitional phase, the NFU wants CAP “legacy schemes” to continue for farmers but, crucially, government should at this point undertake a detailed assessment of the wider political environment and trading conditions facing farmers in a post-Brexit world to inform new policy direction - as well as assessing the results of pilots and trials introduced in earlier years.

A third and final transitional phase would bring the switch to a new, bold and ambitious domestic agricultural policy, time dependent on the results of the Government’s impact assessment and a clear understanding of the impact of policy changes on British farming.

Mr Raymond said: “Forming a future domestic agricultural policy presents a huge opportunity for Government to set out a framework for support that promotes profitability, productivity and progressiveness on British farms. But at the forefront of many farmers’ minds is the shift from an EU policy to domestic one and what this will mean for their businesses. And this is why a well-thought-out transition... is vital to ensuring as much certainty and stability as possible.”

He added: “With a Brexit settlement that promotes a positive future for British farming, the first two phases could be completed in four years with a new system implemented as early as 2023. But a disruptive Brexit that damages the prospects of British farming would mean maintaining the stability of the current system for a much longer period.”

The future of trade is a major concern for farmers and in her Brexit speech in Florence last month, Prime Minister Theresa May said Brexit means taking the UK outside of the single market and the EU’s customs union.

She outlined plans for a time limited implementation period of around two years from Brexit, when access to one another’s markets would continue on current terms.

Defra Secretary Michael Gove promised a “new deal” for rural communities at the Tory Party Conference in Manchester this week.

As reported in The Yorkshire Post, the Minister has vowed to use Brexit to “revive” the countryside.

He said: “The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy has been a failure – environmentally damaging and socially unjust... [channelling] hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money to the already wealthy, simply because of the amount of land they have.

“Outside the CAP we can stop subsidising the rich on the basis of how much land they own and instead spend money on enhancing the environment, supporting innovation, improving productivity... and reviving rural communities.”