MPs call for ring-fenced funding for farming after Brexit

Seagulls follow a tractor ploughing near Brampton. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Seagulls follow a tractor ploughing near Brampton. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2016

Funding for farming after Brexit should be ring-fenced to support the rural economy and environment, MPs have urged.

When the UK leaves the European Union, it will also leave the EU's Common Agricultural Policy which governs policy and pays subsidies to farmers worth £3bn a year in the UK, mostly based on the amount of land they have.

The government has proposed new measures which will focus payments on providing 'public goods' such as creating wildlife habitat, protecting landscapes, reducing flooding and improving air quality.

But there is an 'absence of detail' in the proposals which have been put out to consultation, the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee has warned.

MPs on the committee have called for a government commitment to fully funding a new agricultural policy using ring-fenced funds released by the end of the CAP's system of direct payments.

In a report on the future for food, farming and the environment, the Efra committee called for clarity on funding, timing and delivery of the future agricultural policy, without which the government's ambitions will not be met.

It says around 42% of farmers are not profitable without their direct payments, and particular sectors such as sheep farming and smaller farms are likely to be more affected by the end of subsidies.

Most Read

So there is a need for the government to produce a thorough assessment of the impacts of removing them, the MPs said, to help target support where it will be needed most.

And measures such as tax breaks to help farmers invest in new technology should be investigated as part of efforts to boost productivity on farms.

There is broad support for including animal health and welfare in the 'public goods' that could receive public money, the MPs said.

Defra should commit to exploring how that could be achieved through trials during the transition period for moving farming to the new system, they urged.

The report also warned that an independent inspection regime to check public money is being legitimately spent under the new scheme must be properly funded.

And moves towards self-regulation and potential deregulation after Brexit must not allow a 'race to the bottom' on standards.

Environmental and animal welfare standards must also be maintained on products entering the UK after the country quits the EU, and the Government must ensure future trade agreements prevent any that do not from coming in.

Neil Parish, chairman of the committee, said: 'A new funding model for agriculture is essential for the future prosperity of UK farming.

'As we leave the EU we must ensure that we maintain our standards, and that those importing into the UK meet our high standards of production.

'The government should commit to funding the future agricultural policy using ring-fenced funds, consider new support mechanisms such as tax breaks and capital grant support, ensure that trade agreements demand that imported products meet our standards, and avoid a regulatory race to the bottom.'

A Defra spokesman said: 'Leaving the EU gives us a historic opportunity to design a fresh approach to farming that works in the national interest.

'We have set out ambitious proposals to raise productivity and move away from land-based subsidies so we can reward farmers for the public goods they provide.

'We have committed to match the £3bn in farm support until the end of this parliament in 2022, followed by a longer agricultural transition period to give farmers time to adapt.

'We had more than 44,000 responses to our consultation which we are analysing before bringing forward an Agriculture Bill later this year.'