UKIP unveils post-EU agriculture vision

Withdrawing from the EU will allow British farmers to prosper, free from unnecessary red tape and with domestic policies better designed for their specific circumstances.

That is the claim of the UK Independence Party, which this week launched a new policy document setting out its vision for British food and farming.

“The EU is a regulatory straight jacket in virtually every aspect of the rural economy, from controls on pesticides and food labelling, to veterinary and animal transportation rules,” it said. This costs the UK rural economy “billions of pounds per annum”, on top of the net contribution the UK Treasury makes to the EU budget.

The UKIP document, which has been released as one of a series of policy papers in the run-up to next year’s general election, singles out the EU Nitrates Directive, EID in sheep and restrictions on animal transport as examples of overregulation in the farming sector.

If elected to power, UKIP says it would implement a thorough review of all EU regulation, keeping the bits that made sense, but removing the bits that just added cost and complexity.

The paper also claims the UK’s membership of the EU denies Britain its own seat at the WTO. “This means that the EU negotiates policies which are dictated on the basis of the demands of vocal and aggressive farmers in France, and rarely, if ever, in the interests of British farmers.”

UKIP says its vision is of a Britain “outside of the political structures of the EU, yet retaining our trading and economic links through Swiss-style free trade agreements”. As the sixth biggest economy in the world, it has no doubts the EU would want to maintain active trading links with the UK. But it insists there must be far better labelling of imported food, to make clear where it does not live up to British standards.

Speaking to Farmers Weekly in London earlier this week, UKIP agriculture spokesman Stuart Agnew said it was significant that countries such as Switzerland and Norway were outside the EU, but still had the highest per capita incomes in Europe.

While UKIP advocated free trade, with reduced tariffs for other Commonwealth countries, it still favoured retaining some support for farming through the single farm payment.

Mr Agnew suggested that, with substantial savings to be had from disengagement with the EU, there should be sufficient funds to continue supporting farmers. “But we anticipate that the SFP will become a diminishing proportion of farm incomes, and for that reason we will not attempt to rationalise the different payment methods across the UK.”

UKIP adds that it is against the cultivation of GM crops in the UK, unless driven by consumer demand, says it will be driven by the science in terms of controlling TB in cattle and it will allow local referenda on hunting with dogs.

Commenting on the document, an NFU spokesman said that, while the NFU had to remain politically neutral, it was hard to see how the UK could continue to trade with the EU without equivalent regulations. “If it were to follow the Swiss model, the UK would have to accept the vast majority of EU legislation in the fields of public and safety and the environment, yet would have no say in how that law was decided.”

What do you think of the UKIP policy of disengagement from Europe? See our forum thread. And to see the report in full, click here

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