Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Tuesday 18 December 2018

Michael Gove: farmers who protect the countryside will be rewarded most when Brexit ends 'perverse' EU farm subsidies

Farmers who receive the biggest EU subsidies hit with massive cuts

British Environment Secretary Michael Gove Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
British Environment Secretary Michael Gove Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

Gordon Rayner

Farmers who protect the countryside will be first in the queue for post-Brexit state subsidies as they are freed from the “perverse” constraints of EU rules on handouts, Michael Gove says today.

The Environment Secretary will announce a new system of “public money for public goods” that will replace the EU’s controversial Common Agricultural Policy, which enriches the wealthiest landowners.

The Agriculture Bill, which will be introduced in Parliament today, is the first piece of legislation to detail exactly how any one sector of the economy will change after Brexit.

Writing in today’s Daily Telegraph, Mr Gove says the Bill ensures that farmers will “at last” be properly rewarded for the work they do “to enhance the environment around us”.

Instead of CAP payments being handed out by Brussels on the basis of how much land a farmer owns, farmers will be given state aid on the basis of producing high quality food in a more sustainable way.

They will also be incentivised to look after hedgerows and other wildlife habitats and provide greater public access to their land by maintaining footpaths, dry stone walls, stiles and gates.

Mitigating against climate change by planting trees and preventing flooding will be rewarded, as will improvements in soil health, water quality, air quality, biodiversity and carbon reduction.

Mr Gove says Britain’s farmers have been “held back by the stifling rules and often perverse incentives of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy”.

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Under CAP, the top 10 per cent of recipients currently receive almost 50 per cent of total payments, while the bottom 20 per cent receive just 2 per cent, meaning the wealthiest landowners benefit the most and smallholders get little help.

Mr Gove argues that the CAP system discourages innovation and diversity but Brexit means Britain can “take back control of policy levers which have been out of our hands for decades”, and “nowhere is that more true than in the environment and agriculture”.

The CAP system will be replaced with “land management contracts” which will be in place by 2027.

The Bill will set out a seven-year agricultural transition period during which the Government will initially pay farmers the same as they currently receive under CAP before phasing in the changes.

Farmers who receive the biggest EU subsidies - £150,000 or more - will see the biggest reduction in their grants when the transition begins, with 25 per cent cut from their money in the first year.

In a further crucial change, payments will no longer be linked to a contractual obligation to farm the land, meaning farmers will have the freedom to use the money to invest in equipment or diversify their business.

Mr Gove writes that the changes will “help farm businesses become more resilient, productive and internationally competitive” and will also make it easier for a new generation of farmers to enter the industry and become “the future custodians of rural Britain”.

However, Mr Gove’s department comes in for criticism today as the National Audit Office reports that the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is not ready for Brexit, despite Mr Gove being one of those who led the campaign to leave the EU.

The NAO says that three quarters of Defra’s Brexit workstreams are classed as red or amber because they are behind schedule, and food exports could be delayed at the border or prevented from leaving because of a shortage of vets to examine them to ensure animal welfare standards have been met.

Plans to strengthen fisheries protection operations are also unlikely to be ready by the time Britain leaves the EU, according to the NAO.

Defra wants to provide more sea and airborne assets to protect the £682 million fishing industry but has "not yet fully developed its plans to do this", the NAO said.

The Treasury is refusing to release money for new ships, aircraft and personnel to staff them until Defra provides a full business case, which it has not yet done.

Telegraph.co.uk

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