First details have emerged of a plan for British agriculture if the UK leaves the EU after a summer referendum.
Fledgling policies – including the possibility of area payments to farmers – were outlined by Defra minister George Eustice to reporters and delegates during a session at the NFU annual conference in Birmingham on Wednesday (24 February).
Mr Eustice said: “You would probably keep something similar to an area payment but you might look at accreditation schemes that farmers could enrol on automatically rather than having the chaos of an annual application process with a hard deadline.”
This would avoid situations where farmers lost their entire support entitlement for the year when subsidy applications were lost in the post, said Mr Eustice.
“There are lots of things you could do differently,” he added.
The UK’s in-out referendum will take place on 23 June.
But many farmers will need far more detailed policy proposals when it comes to agriculture before they can make an informed decision about which way to vote.
Mr Eustice unveiled his Brexit farming plan after announcing he would campaign for the UK to leave the EU – a decision which puts him at direct odds with Defra secretary Liz Truss, who has warned that such a move would be a “leap into the dark”.
The existing way of tackling agricultural and rural development policy would be completely scrapped if the UK left the EU, suggested Mr Eustice.
“My view is that you would probably dismantle the whole two pillar structure,” he said.
Cross compliance, which was “bureaucratic and unnecessary,” would be completely streamlined. Food security would be enhanced through investment in science and technology.
The government would look at risk-management tools for farmers, such as insurance schemes.
Mr Eustice said he would also like to see high levels of animal welfare on farms rewarded in the same way farmers are rewarded for undertaking environmental measures.
Agri-environment schemes would continue but without the EU bureaucracy and reporting requirements, he said.
“We would do far better as a country if we ended the supremacy of EU law and actually shaped new, fresh thinking and created policies that would really deliver for our agriculture”
George Eustice, Defra minister
Mr Eustice said he had “wrestled with all sorts of EU regulation” during his time as Defra minister.
“We would do far better as a country if we ended the supremacy of EU law and actually shaped new, fresh thinking and created policies that would really deliver for our agriculture.”
If the UK left the EU, there would be an £18bn a year “Brexit dividend” in savings, said Mr Eustice.
“Could we find the money to spend £2bn on farming and the environment? Of course we could. Would we? Without the shadow of a doubt.”
Concerns that the UK Treasury wouldn’t support agriculture to the same extent as Brussels were ill-founded, suggested Mr Eustice.
“Ultimately the Treasury does what parliament tells it to do. If we took back control of agricultural policy, parliament would re-engage.”