The United Kingdom became a member of the EU in 1973 during the time of Edward Heath’s Conservative government. In June 2016 the Conservative government’s referendum concerning whether or not the UK should continue EU membership resulted in 52% of voters (17.4 million) choosing to leave. Thus the term ‘Brexit’ was born
The main institutions responsible for designing EU law – to which we have commitment until we leave the EU – are: the European Commission, European Parliament, and Council of the European Union (normally called ‘the Council’)
Many of those who voted to leave the EU did so because they wanted changes to the economic, social and political status. Many farmers voted ‘out’ because they disagreed with much of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and other stratagem.
Government farming policy post-Brexit is concentrated on ending the Basic Payment Scheme [BPS] although it has committed to maintaining a similar scheme until 2022. The replacement policy will be focused on ‘delivering public goods’ with ‘environmental enhancement’ taking the centre stage. BPS will be phased out during ’a transition period’. It is assumed – but not stated – that the latter will be undertaken in stages.
In August 2015 Defra devised ten-point plan ‘for boosting productivity in rural areas’. Three years have since elapsed during which time implementation of the plan has, at best, been fragmentary. Arguably the following have not yet been achieved in many rural areas: fast and reliable broadband services; availability high quality mobile communications; modern transport connections; expanded apprenticeships; more housing in rural areas; increased availability of affordable childcare. If Defra cannot get this right, what chance for policy post-Brexit?
Following the Second World War Winston Churchill commented “We see nothing but good and hope in a richer, freer, more contented European commonality. But we have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe, but not of it. We are linked, but not comprised. We are interested and associated, but not absorbed.”
We cannot plan for the future of farming and related rural industries post-Brexit without first taking a hard look at the status quo.
Farming is a business – a tough, hard, demanding vital industry on which every individual in the UK is dependent in a multiplicity of ways.
Popular perceptions undervalue farming. Farming is not ‘a sinecure for the landed gentry’. Farming is not an industry for people looking for an easy option. Farming is not for those not prepared to work to high standards. Farming is for the passionately motivated who recognise – and want to be part of – the invaluable contributions the industry makes regionally, nationally and internationally.
Over 70% of the UK’s land area is farmland. This designation includes farm meadows, woodlands, ponds and hedges that collectively benefit biodiversity and provide habitats for wildlife.
Farm sizes range from smallholdings of less than 2 hectares – mainly specialist horticultural businesses or ‘lifestyle-related’ – larger family farms of bewteen 50 and 2,000 hectares through to large companies, trusts and charities farming more than 3,000 hectares. Large farms above 100 hectares account for 22.4% of farm holdings and equate to three quarters of farm area.
British farmers currently receive approximately £3 billion from the EU. Farming output level is in the region of £9 billion or 0.7 per cent of GDP. 2015 figures indicate farmers also received £21 million related to animal disease compensations schemes, £91 million under the Less Favoured Areas support schemes and £26 million in other payments.
The UK’s contribution to the EU is estimated to be in the region of £9.8 billion – more than three times greater.
Between 2014 and 2020 the UK expected to receive €2.6 billion from the EU for the environment and rural development. A large component is directed at agri-environment schemes whereby farmers receive additional payments for practices which especially protect and enhance the environment. The government has committed to maintain these figures.
Throughout 2014/5 rural businesses accounted for 25% of all businesses in England, 16% of which were based on agriculture, forestry and fishing.
During 2015 – last available composite figures – farming made a major contribution worth at least 7.4 times the support received via direct payments. During the same period, overall agriculture contributed around £24 billion revenues and around £8.5 billion of Gross Value Added to the UK economy.
Overall in 2015 the UK trade figure for agricultural and food products was about £20.5 billion (exports £18 billion, imports £38.5 billion). During 2016 the value of imports was greater than the value of exports in each of the broad categories of food, feed and drink except ‘beverages’ which recorded a trade surplus of £1.35 billion (largely due to exports of Scotch whisky).