We do now have a pretty certain timetable for Brexit. We are told we will no longer be EU citizens by April 2019. So starts a series of critical negotiations in which our Government will seek a deal that secures both the terms of our exit and establishes a new trading relationship with our next door neighbours. By the way, they are our most significant trading partners.
At the centre of this new relationship will be a free trade deal. As I have said before, we do not under-estimate the importance of getting this deal right.
The CLA will be playing its part supporting our ministers and officials in this task, and we will be taking our message across the water to European farming and landowning leaders. Securing the right deal is in everyone’s interest.
There will also be much fighting talk of other free trade deals the UK can establish around the world.
Talking and planning is a good thing but we will be urging ministers to void distraction from the main chance.
For the food and farming sector in particular, getting our trade deal with the EU right must be the absolute priority.
We will shed few tears at leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). How far the Government is able or willing to design a new policy in the next 23 months remains to be seen.
I smell delay.
Lack of progress in the publication of the ‘Green Paper’ consultations does not inspire confidence that decisions will be made soon.
This is not a comfortable reality for farmers looking beyond the guarantee of basic payments up to the end of 2020.
However, the Government is committed to transferring all the rules and regulations that underpin the CAP into UK law as part of the Great Repeal Bill.
This opens up the possibility that a transitional interregnum may start after 2020, until such time as the Government has built a replacement and legislated.
That would be the most pragmatic outcome.
It is so important to get the policy right for the long term, and on our own UK specific terms.
That is more important than rushing to redefine the way we support agriculture and land management in just a few months.
At our CLA Council last month, we talked about this long-term vision for a new policy and had excellent feedback from those present, armed with the views of members expressed at branch meetings across England and Wales.
Our concept is to build a policy that emphatically improves farming productivity and the competitiveness of UK agriculture. But also one that establishes a new contractual relationship; between farmer, landowners and the state.
This idea received significant approval and is the basis upon which our policy development will evolve.
We are clear that our role is to lead and to shape our own future, a theme that we will return to again and again throughout the year ahead.
The challenges of Brexit are urgent, the uncertainty is uncomfortable and both have major implications for our farming and the rural economy.
The challenge for ministers and for us all, is to hold our nerve, create the space to make the right decisions and avoid being rushed into blind alleys that have unintended consequences.
We can and should remain confident that one day, many years after Brexit, a more productive and competitive agricultural sector will be at the heart of a growing rural economy, and with a new land use policy framework that better serves the needs of all parts of the UK.
Time to roll up our sleeves and shape that future. Onwards!
Ross Murray is president of the Country Land and Business Association.