Brexit transition deal paves way for changes to farm support

Farmers should prepare for changes to support payments as soon as 2020 following a Brexit transition deal between the UK and EU.

The agreement between Brussels and London was announced by EU and UK Brexit negotiators Michel Barnier and David Davis on Monday (19 March).

The transitional period, which will last from 29 March 2019 to December 2020.

See also: NFU grapples with Defra’s Brexit plan for farmers

But the deal says EU regulation 1307/2013 – which covers rules for direct payments made to farmers under the CAP – will not apply for the 2020 claim year.

It paves the way for the government to switch a bigger proportion of farm support away from direct payments towards environmental measures sooner rather than later – if it wants to.

The government has made no secret of its intention to phase out direct payments to farmers and replace them with a new system that rewards farmers who undertake environmental work.

Money for public goods

The phrase “public money for public goods” has become something of a mantra for Defra secretary Michael Gove, who argues direct payments simply reward farmers for owning land.

Julie Robinson, partner with solicitors Roythornes, suggested the government could now press ahead with changes – subject to the EU’s “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” principle.

“We now have confirmation… that the CAP direct payment rules will not apply in 2020, leaving UK administrations free to make changes,” she tweeted.

NFU chief Brexit and international trade adviser Gail Soutar said it was clear it would be “business as usual” for direct payments to farmers in England for 2018 and 2019.

But changes to the support system could now be introduced from 2020, Ms Soutar told farmers at an NFU Brexit roadshow meeting at Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Defra payments pledge

Earlier this year, Defra secretary Michael Gove pledged that direct payments to farmers would be made on the same basis as now until 2019.

But it was unclear how soon afterwards Defra would be able to press ahead with its goal of replacing direct payments with a system based on environmental measures.

Mr Gove pledged that the government would continue to provide the same total amount of support currently paid to farmers under the CAP until 2022.

Following the transition deal, the government will find it easier to switch more of that money from direct payments towards environmental support, should it so wish.