Ministers have been accused of endangering the livelihoods of Scotland’s farmers by “failing to plan ahead” for Brexit.
The accusation came as MPs sought to fast track legislation through the Commons to ensure basic farm subsidies can continue following the UK’s exit from the EU in just 10 days time.
The Agriculture Bill, which mainly outlines future agricultural policy for England, sets out in law the amount of funding that will be made available to Scottish farmers via the direct payment system for the rest of 2020.
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said the Bill was merely a “short technical piece of legislation with a simple purpose”, adding: “The common agricultural policy provisions provided the basis to issue basic payments in the UK for 2020. They were disapplied by the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement reached last year.
“This policy decision has left a legal gap which we’re now proposing to fill. This legislation will provide clarity to farmers on funding support this year.”
The SNP’s environment spokeswoman Deidre Brock branded the move a “last-minute fix”, however, and said: “This has been done in a rush to cover the government’s failure to plan ahead for Brexit.
“This panicked legislation now needs to get through to safeguard livelihoods and food supplies. That should really give the Government pause for thought.”
Ms Villiers, referencing the row over convergence funding for farmers, said the Bill would also “correct a perceived historical injustice in relation to past years’ allocations”.
Chancellor Sajid Javid set out last year that the UK Government would be willing to pay an additional £160 million to Scottish farmers after they “lost out” in the 2013 allocation of EU agricultural funding from Westminster.
But Ms Brock hit out at the UK Government’s characterisation of the situation, saying: “The convergence money was swiped from Scottish farmers, it was not simply a matter of perception. It was theft plain and simple.
“They should also be paid interest and compensation for the initial theft but I hold out no prospect of that happening.”
Prior to the row over farm funding, MPs called on the UK Government to offer greater support to the wider business community in Scotland as the countdown to Brexit enters its final stage.
Business Secretary Andrew Leadsom hit back at suggestions Scotland would be impacted, saying: “The Scottish Government received almost £100 million to help to prepare for Brexit in the run-up to October 31 last year.
“I am delighted that we now have a good deal with the European Union, so we will be leaving the EU at the end of January, but the implementation period will mean that nothing changes for businesses until the end of 2020.
“We are working hard on our future trading relationship with our EU friends and neighbours.”