Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to trigger the two-year process for the UK to leave the European Union by March 2017 must act as a catalyst for real debate on the future of agricultural support outside the CAP.
That is the view of the Ulster Farmers’ Union which has voiced concern at the lack of meaningful discussions with Westminster up to this point.
UFU president Barclay Bell described the time since the referendum in June as ‘frustrating’, highlighting the lack of engagement up to this point by the ministers at Westminster responsible for shaping a new support model.
“However, following this announcement there can now be no justification for delay,” said Mr Bell.
“We know when the CAP will end, and we need to have something ready to take its place. The sooner the debate begins in earnest the greater the chances are of this being an opportunity to create a new support model that will deliver a thriving future for farmers, the countryside and the rural economy.”
The UFU president said the wider priorities for the UFU and other UK farming organisations were trade and support. He said success with both was needed, with an added dimension in Northern Ireland of the maintenance of traditional trade with the Republic of Ireland.
He continued: “We recognise that all groups have priorities – and we have already seen some environmental bodies trying to dictate the shape of these discussions. What is needed is for the minister responsible – Andrea Leadsom at DEFRA –to manage the debate between devolved ministers and all those with an interest in a successful countryside and to set clear priorities.”
Mr Bell said it was important to remember that those campaigning for Brexit in June, including Mrs Leadsom, promised farmers a successful future outside the CAP, with less red tape.
“According to polls farmers bought into those arguments, and now want to see delivery. The Treasury must acknowledge that agriculture is supported in every developed country. We need a different, less bureaucratic funding model, but support must match the CAP. We also need to be able to trade freely,” he said.
The UFU says it is important there is a recognition at Westminster that the future is not about saving money.
“The UK has always been a net contributor to the CAP so it can afford to support agriculture and rural communities. Brexit can bring a new future for the countryside, built around a productive farming industry that delivers for the environment and the rural economy. We now have to focus our efforts to get that up and running, if we are to have a seamless transition from the CAP,” said Mr Bell.
The UFU president added: “Even though the referendum outcome was only three months ago, early in the process the UFU agreed on several key principles which we consider to be critical going forward and we are presently embarking on fleshing these out in more detail through a substantial internal information provision and consultation process with our wider membership.”