Ewing accuses UK government of reneging on farm policy pledges

Scottish rural affairs secretary Fergus Ewing has accused the UK government of not listening to the devolved nations on Brexit farming policy.

In a letter sent to farm ministers in Wales and Northern Ireland, Mr Ewing called on the devolved nations to speak with a unified voice to protect the interests of UK agriculture during Brexit negotiations.

Mr Ewing highlighted growing concern that the UK government intended to impose a legislative and regulatory framework for the sector after the country leaves the European Union that would ignore the views of the devolved nations. 

See also: Westminster Brexit farm power grab must be blocked – Nicola Sturgeon

“At the NFU Scotland AGM, Ruth Davidson MSP, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, made it clear that powers transferring from the EU should sit with the UK government to be shared with Scotland (and presumably your devolved administrations), echoing comments already made by UK ministers,” Mr Ewing writes.

“I am concerned by this and hope we can find common ground on it.”

Mr Ewing said he was also worried that the UK government had not given any assurances over future funding arrangements to give “long-term certainty the sector needs”.

The letter was sent to Welsh farm minister Lesley Griffiths and Northern Ireland’s farm minister Michelle McIlveen on 10 February.

Funding promises

Speaking during a press briefing at last week’s NFU Scotland’s AGM, Mr Ewing told reporters that pro-Brexit Defra farm minister George Eustice must be held to account over the funding pledges he gave during the EU referendum campaign.

Mr Ewing told reporters: “George Eustice and others during the Brexit campaign plainly said that the funding total, about £3bn, would be at least matched, without a shadow of a doubt.”

The UK government has promised to fund farming to the same levels until at least 2019. But it has made no firm commitments post 2020.

“I think they are now derelict in their duty in respect of providing clarity to the whole of the rural community about their agricultural plans,” said Mr Ewing.

The meeting also heard that Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom had postponed a meeting to discuss Brexit funding and regulatory issues at short notice last month. The meeting has been rearranged and is set to take place in Edinburgh on 23 February.

Defra response

A Defra spokeswoman said the meeting in January was postponed because not all the devolved administration ministers were able to attend on that day.

She added: “We are determined to get the best deal possible, not least for our hard-working farmers.

“Scottish views will play an important part in helping shape our discussions around our exit from the EU and we will continue to work with all the devolved administrations throughout the process to achieve a deal on leaving the EU that works for all parts of the UK.”