I will scrap cross-compliance fines post-Brexit, says Eustice

Defra minister and Brexit campaigner George Eustice has pledged to abolish automatic cross-compliance penalties for farmers if the UK leaves the European Union.

Mr Eustice made the pledge in a speech at the Balmoral Show in Northern Ireland.

“The EU’s cross-compliance penalty regime is an indefensible system of rough justice, which must be scrapped,” he told listeners.

See also: Minister reveals post-Brexit plan for farming

“It results in farmers receiving huge fines for the most trivial of errors and creates a spirit-crushing culture.”

Farmers who were doing their best often ended up having their money automatically docked as a result of “clunky EU regulations without so much as a hearing before a court” and a vote to leave the EU in the UK referendum on 23 June would help bring clarity and consistency to enforcement, said Mr Eustice.

“We would establish a clear distinction between regulatory requirements, which should be a matter for the courts, and payments to farmers for the environmental and other benefits they provide.

“There would be no more automatic fines.”

In future, agencies such as the Rural Payments Agency or the Environment Agency would have to take farmers to court and bring a prosecution for serious breaches, said Mr Eustice.

“There would be far greater use of warnings and improvement notices.”

It is not the first time that Mr Eustice has outlined his views on UK agricultural policy in the event that the country leaves the EU.

Earlier this year, he described cross-compliance as “bureaucratic and unnecessary”, saying it would be completely streamlined.

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.

But pro-EU campaigners say such promises are worthless because there is no guarantee that the politicians who make them will be in power after the referendum.