Soil Association fears ‘green Brexit’ is slipping away

Environmental and organic farming groups fear that, with the Agriculture Bill stalled and a change of Defra secretary imminent, prospects for a “green Brexit” are slipping.

The Soil Association’s chief executive, Helen Browning said that, despite the fine words from government about the UK becoming an “environmental superpower”, there was a real fear that this could all melt away.

See also: Experts field farmers’ questions on Brexit

Speaking at the launch of a new Soil Association report on Brexit, Ms Browning said the UK was already lagging behind some member states in making use of existing provisions within the CAP to bolster the environment.

In particular, she pointed to agro-forestry projects in France, supply chain initiatives in Spain and public procurement policies in Denmark which had given the organic sector a boost.

“We are so far behind the pace on some of these things,” she said. “There is so much we could be doing already, but those opportunities seem to be seeping away from us.”

Political agenda

Shaun Spiers, executive director of the Green Alliance, echoed these views, praising Defra secretary Michael Grove for his efforts to get green issues onto the political agenda.

“But there is a real worry now about loss of momentum. We’re almost certainly going to get a new environment secretary – and much of the energy for reform has come from Michael Gove and indeed George Eustice when he was at Defra.

“But the Agriculture Bill, we are told, might not even appear in parliament again this year. There is a real sense of drift.

He added that a decent trade deal with the EU is also essential to achieving a green Brexit. “If we have an acrimonious ‘no deal’, then any hope for a green Brexit is essentially for the birds.”

Report author, Ludivine Petitin from Cardiff University said that Brexit provided the opportunity for the UK to become “an environmental superpower”.

“But it feels like we are going back to the same old habits, focusing on intensifying production and putting environmental protection on the side.”

Manifesto pledge

Defra farming minister Robert Goodwill insisted that post-Brexit farm policy would be guided by the government’s manifesto pledge to leave the environment in a better state than when the Conservatives came to power.

“I can assure you we will not allow our high environmental standards to diminish,” he said. “The new Environmental Land Management scheme is the cornerstone of our landmark Agriculture Bill, to deliver sustainable environmental benefits.”

The briefing paper “Setting the Bar for a Green Brexit in Food and Farming” was commissioned by the Soil Association and was prepared by Dr Ludivine Petetin form Cardiff University, Dr Viviane Gravey from Queen’s University Belfast and Dr Brendan Moore from University of East Anglia.