‘Back to drawing board on devolved powers’: Farming cash ‘one of main challenges’ following Brexit

PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe
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leaving the European Union means the UK will have to go back to the drawing board over devolution, constitutional experts have warned.

Wrangles over sharing out billions of pounds in cash for farmers will be one of the biggest challenges Ministers face, 
according to the Institute for Government (IfG).

The influential think-tank said new agreements are urgently needed on how the environment, agriculture and fisheries are dealt with when powers return from Brussels. It warned that failing to do so will disrupt the economy and hit the environment.

Jill Rutter, IfG Brexit programme director, said: “The past year has shown the strain leaving the EU is placing on devolution arrangements designed on the assumption of UK membership.

“It is time for an overhaul. It is in the interests not only of the UK Government, but also the devolved governments, to develop firm foundations for future joint working to promote collaboration and innovation.

“Only then will we have the right environment, agriculture and fisheries policies for the whole country after Brexit.”

The UK received £3.4bn in Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) payments in 2016, with England allocated less per person than the other nations. The IfG said Northern Ireland got £177.64 per person, Wales and Scotland about £94 and England £41.46. As well as an agreement on how money should be allocated, a decision must also be taken on what restrictions are placed on how it is spent, the IfG said.

Although some of it will fall under international rules, such as World Trade Organisation (WTO) regulations, they will not be enough to prevent market distortion within the UK.

“For example, current WTO rules would not prevent the Scottish government from substantially subsidising beef farmers, even if the UK Government chose not to do so in England, which would give an advantage to Scottish beef farmers trading within the UK,” the report said.

The IfG called for an urgent review of the Joint Ministerial Committee, the forum for the UK and devolved governments to meet. It said the creation of public bodies to replace EU institutions should be “four-nation by default”, including Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s plan for an environmental watchdog.

Martin Harper, RSPB’s director of global conservation, said: “Nature knows no borders. It is vital that our governments work together to agree new shared frameworks for nature’s recovery and new joint governance arrangements capable of holding them all to account.”

A Government spokesman said: “We have undertaken a great deal of work to strengthen our relationships with the devolved governments as we prepare to leave the EU. The UK Government will work in collaboration with the devolved administrations to review our structures and make sure they are fit for purpose in light of our exit from the EU.”