MORE THAN 15 years after the mismanagement of the Rural Payments Agency first came to light, today’s scathing report by a Parliamentary committee does not bode well for the future of agriculture – or Brexit.
Quite the opposite. It’s failing to pay EU subsidies promptly, causing cashflow difficulties for farmers, and is evidently in no position to deliver post-Brexit strategies that will have an increased emphasis on the natural environment.
Yet, while Michael Gove is not the first Environment Secretary having to answer for failings “on multiple levels” that have been identified by the influential Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, today’s criticisms are potentially the most serious.
Even with a Brexit transition period, time is not on the Government’s side if the RPA’s complaints procedure is to be overhauled so that inaccurate payments, the result of recent mapping updates, can be rectified more speedily. This is before the RPA has to devise – and then implement – its own system of farm subsidies that will ultimately replace the Common Agricultural Policy.
Perhaps part of the problem is that too many Ministers – and opponents for that matter – appear to be fighting their own Brexit turf wars, a rerun of the EU referendum, rather than making sure that their own departments are fit for purpose ahead of the biggest shake-up in the nation’s governance since the country entered the then EEC over 40 years ago.
This much is abundantly clear as the UK finds itself without a trade policy less than 120 days away from the final negotiation with the European Union – and with Cabinet ministers warning that Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s public interventions are totally undermining the Government’s strategy.
It’s why Theresa May must try and assert some authority. The greater the disarray, whether it be on trade or agriculture policy, the harder it will be to secure a reasonable deal of sorts with the EU.