Farm minister George Eustice has insisted Defra “will be ready” if the country votes to leave in the upcoming EU Referendum.
Earlier this year, Defra secretary Liz Truss openly admitted her department had “No Plan B” to support farming in the event of a Brexit.
Ms Truss said officials within her department were not working on a contingency plan that would form the basis of UK agricultural policy, if the UK votes “leave” in the referendum on 23 June.
David Cameron has since confirmed that as long as he is prime minister, his government would make sure an agricultural support system would be “properly maintained”.
Mr Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, who is backing the Vote Leave campaign, admitted it had been extremely difficult to take a different view to the prime minister. But he insisted that leaving the EU was the right decision for the country.
“Big decisions always make people apprehensive but we must not duck big decisions,” he told reporters at the Royal Bath and West Show on Wednesday (1 June).
PM would lead change
Speaking at a Brexit debate, Mr Eustice said: “Although the government says it’s got no Plan B, it does have people like me who have done a lot of work.
“I can assure you Defra will be ready if we vote to leave. And if we do vote for change the prime minister will lead the reconciliation to that new reality – the entire machine of government will be committed to withdrawal from the EU in the best possible way.”
The EU currently contributes about 40% of its budget to agriculture and Mr Cameron has previously warned that he could not guarantee that future Brexit-led UK governments would back agriculture to the same extent.
Critics fear that the Treasury would divert any funds gained from leaving the EU from agriculture to more pressing priorities, such as the NHS, education and housing.
Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, warned rural voters that the British government was not as supportive of agriculture as other nations in the EU.
Treasury allocates funding
In the case of a Brexit, he said the Treasury would make decisions on farm payments, not Defra ministers.
“While we may have problems sometimes with the EU we also have an area where we can trade freely. You don’t walk away from half your trade,” added Mr Parish, who is also chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Select Committee.
Rebecca Pow, Conservative MP for Taunton Deane, said the common agricultural policy needed reforming to work better for the British countryside.
“There is no all wrong or all right with leave or stay,” she said. “We need to stand up for ourselves more, which we haven’t been doing, but on balance I believe we’re better off in.”
Farmers Weekly has asked Defra to respond to Mr Eustice’s comments.