Westminster has singled out farming and fishing for an accelerated exit from Europe at the end of March 2019.
The political bombshell was dropped on farming leaders by Scotland Office Under Secretary of State Lord Ian Duncan during an NFU Scotland meeting at Birnam in Perthshire.
Lord Duncan told the audience of farmers that Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s clear negotiating position was to secure as early an exit as possible from the Common Agricultural Policy (Cap) and the Common Fisheries Policy. He said negotiators would do all they could to achieve that outcome.
“That’s our starting negotiating position, to be determined with the EU. We would prefer to see the freedom to come to you to begin to determine farm policy,” he said.
However the news came as a shock to farmers’ union leader Andrew McCornick who said he was astounded Westminster would announce a major policy shift without prior consultation.
“It has taken me completely by surprise,” he said.
“The problem is they don’t understand we’re making long-term decisions in agriculture during all the uncertainty over the Brexit negotiations. We’re still trying to farm through all of it.
“Is the UK going to be giving the same money to the EU during the transition period and at the same time paying money for an agriculture policy?
“And how could we be in a transition agriculture-wise and still be trading with Europe if we haven’t the same support systems? I’ve no answer to that, I’ll be looking for clarity.” Scotland’s Brexit Minister, Mike Russell was equally perplexed by the announcement and said it only added to the chaos and confusion of the UK Government’s Brexit position.
He said: “It’s very different from what we’ve been hearing, which is that it’s inconceivable that agriculture and fishing would be separate from the rest of the transition arrangements.”
Questioned later, Lord Duncan insisted that remaining in the Cap for the duration of the transition period would be a “worst-case scenario”.
He insisted that farm support was guaranteed by the UK Government until 2022, whatever happened.
“You will get your money,” he said.
Lord Duncan also said Cap funding was likely to be reduced after 2021, so for one year UK farmers would almost certainly benefit from being out of Europe.