Treasury faces questions over farm payment pledge

The government is facing calls for further reassurance after guaranteeing that direct payments to farmers will continue post-Brexit – but only until 2020.

It follows a Treasury statement in which Chancellor Philip Hammond said the current level of CAP direct payments would be upheld until 2020 as the UK moves towards new arrangements.

Mr Hammond also pledged to fund structural and investment projects – including agri-environment schemes – signed off before the government’s Autumn Statement in November.

See also: Chancellor promises to maintain farm support

But doubts remain about funding for these agri-environment schemes agreed after that date.

The NFU said the guarantee provided some much-needed short-term certainty, which should mean farmers would continue receiving their Basic Payments through to 2020.

“It buys a bit more time for detailed discussion about what a post-EU British agriculture policy will look like,” said NFU vice-president Guy Smith.

“The prospect of having to have something ready within just a couple of years could have led to a frenzy of half-baked ideas, leading to something not properly thought through or not fit for purpose.”

The union also said the statement should mean that agri-environment schemes already in place were guaranteed through to their conclusion.

It said NFU officials were continuing to work with Defra to understand the position of those farmers applying for Countryside Stewardship this September.

Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom insisted that the guarantee of funding was “excellent news” for farmers and for the environment.

“Any agri-environment schemes agreed before the Autumn Statement will be fully funded – even when these projects continue beyond the UK’s departure from the EU.”

‘No guarantees’ post 2020

But the Scottish government said the announcement fell short of what was required and failed to provide the industry with the certainty it needed.

Scottish government finance secretary Derek Mackay said: “The chancellor’s approach falls far short of what fishermen, farmers and communities across Scotland need.

“A limited guarantee for some schemes for a few short years leaves Scotland hundreds of millions of pounds short of what we would receive as members of the EU.”

Major funding streams – including contracts for EU structural funds beginning after the Autumn Statement – had no guarantee of continuation at all, said Mr Mackay.

He added: “That simply isn’t good enough.”

Mr Mackay said the lack of any Treasury guarantee put at risk significant investment and jobs in Scotland’s rural economy.

“We have urged the UK government to provide clarity and certainty on these vital funds. Yet, all that is clear with this announcement is that the uncertainty will continue.”

NI reaction

Northern Ireland farm minister Michelle McIlveen was more conciliatory, describing the Treasury statement as a firm commitment to maintain current levels of CAP support to 2020.

Ms McIlveen said: “This removes much uncertainty and creates time in which to develop a new approach to domestic agricultural support.”

She added: “I know that some will ask what comes beyond 2020, but that was a question we were facing within the EU anyway.

“At least we now have an opportunity to shape a support regime that is more suited to our needs and one that is not over-burdened with unnecessary bureaucracy.”