Growing row over future of Scottish agriculture post-Brexit

Defra Secretary Michael Gove
Defra Secretary Michael Gove

UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove has suggested “forces” in the Holyrood government are playing politics with plans to support farmers post-Brexit.

The Tory frontbencher said Scottish ministers should seize the “opportunity” presented by the Agriculture Bill to provide clarity to the sector, but was promptly told to “butt out” by SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford.

The legislation to reform farming after Brexit is currently being scrutinised by MPs and has become the subject of a growing row.

Under the UK Government’s proposals, by 2027 farmers will be rewarded for providing public goods, such as flood protection, instead of receiving subsidies based on land holdings.

Scotland’s Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing has tabled amendments to the bill, but Scotland is not formally included in it in the way that Wales and Northern Ireland are.

Yesterday, Mr Gove told the Press and Journal that rural Scotland was “losing out” because of this approach.

His comments came after Mr Ewing insisted his government would be able to continue to make payments to farmers and crofters without taking powers in the bill.

Mr Gove said: “One of the problems Scottish farmers have is that – unlike English, Welsh and Northern Irish farmers – they don’t have the certainty of knowing that through this legislation, they will have a solid future framework.

“There is a live question. Why won’t the Scottish Government commit to acting as the Welsh Government has and use this legislation to provide a greater degree of certainty and support for Scotland’s farmers in the future?

“The bill is an opportunity. Fergus is a constructive and pragmatic guy. I don’t know if there are other forces in the Scottish Government that are maybe seeking to make political points from this.

“But … my door is always open to make sure we can use this bill in order to get the best possible outcome for Scottish farmers.”

Mr Blackford said the “real issue” was convergence uplift money, around £190million allocated to the UK from the EU to bring Scotland’s per hectare subsidy support figure more in line with the European average.

Scottish Government and industry have long argued that Defra failed to give the money to Scotland.

Asked whether the Scottish Government would bring forward its own legislation on post-Brexit agriculture, the Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP replied: “Agriculture is devolved … Westminster has put its footprint all over the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

“We will take our responsibilities seriously to make sure we have policies in place that will allow for the future development of farming across Scotland.”

Asked what advice he had for Mr Gove, he said: “Butt out.”