This Blog was first published in Brexit Magazine Issue 11.
David Cameron and the BSE campaign’s ‘project Lies and Fear’ has so far largely focused on the loss of economic prosperity and security issues. But with less than 4 months until the referendum, we can expect them to move on to other specific targets soon – namely agriculture – especially now the farmers are seeking reassurances on contingency plans should the United kingdom vote to Leave the European Union.
There are about 300,000 farmers across the UK today, and many are rightly asking why they should vote to leave a union which pays them lavish subsidies on which many of them depend. The CAP (Common Agricultural Policy) is a very large fund currently consists of 40% of the EU’s total budget. In many cases, it is geared against UK taxpayers and farmers. Previously, UK farmers received 50% of the £6 billion the UK contributes towards the CAP, however this has diminished over time and they now only receive 38%, leaving many farmers wondering if they will get a better share of the amount we pay into the EU if we succeed in leaving. Some may also be forgiven for questioning why they would want to leave an agricultural body which, in many cases, pays them to do nothing for years at a time, with the compulsory ‘set-aside’ scheme.
There are however a number of reasons why British farmers should consider voting to leave the EU. Firstly, it would relieve them of excessive regulations and directives which come from Brussels. George Eustice, the Minister of State for Farming, has already pointed out how 80% of legislation affecting DEFRA comes from the EU. This red tape takes a number of different guises, ranging from demands to put up signs ‘thanking’ the EU for the subsidies, to the absurd notion that they must have passports for sheep. Removing much of this red tape will not only make British farmers’ lives easier and with less paperwork, but will also make their farms more competitive. This in turn will enable them to sell their produce to a more global market.
There will undoubtedly be claims from environmentalist groups – many of whom also receive EU-funding – that these regulations are important for the ecological benefit of the UK countryside. Yet our own government, post-Brexit, will have the chance to examine whether these regulations are as environmentally beneficial to the UK as these EU-sponsored groups claim. We are sceptical that a bureaucrat in Brussels knows what is best for both our farmers and the British countryside. How are these bureaucrats able to strike a fine balance beneficial to our farmers, while they are looking after the agricultural concerns of all the other Member States! When you also consider the fact regulations must be equally applicable to farms all across the EU, it becomes glaringly obvious the EU regulations are aimed more at establishing uniformity across the EU, rather than ensuring the long-term financial and environmental sustainability of UK farms.
With this in mind, it should be obvious our agricultural policy will be much better directed from here in the UK. This will enable a far more tailored and flexible policy, which addresses the genuine issues faced by British farmers. Such an approach will not only be more effective, but also more efficient, as it will enable us to cut out the EU middle-man.
It has been estimated direct subsidies from the UK government to British farmers would save £2.8 billion a year, whilst maintaining current CAP spending levels of around £3 billion. When you consider the potential savings, alongside the £6 billion a year the UK pays into the CAP, it is clear Brexit will be financially beneficial both for farmers and Britain as a whole – rather than the rest of our money being spent subsidising militant French farmers.
Some farmers might be unsure whether they can trust the UK government to provide the subsidies following Brexit, and it may be a case of ‘better the devil you know’. It is true the UK government has so far made no contingency plans or reassurances for farmers post-Brexit. However, this is because David Cameron wants to cause as much uncertainty as possible. Leaving the EU will in fact increase the ability of our farmers to shape the governments’ future agricultural policy. And we must point out, if the EU makes further changes to the subsidies which are unfavourable to UK farmers, there will be absolutely nothing the UK government can do about it, as our Prime Minister has not included this in his so-called ‘renegotiations’! Brexit will restore the power of British MPs, ensuring farmers can hold the government to account for the UK’s agricultural policy.
All this indicates farmers should have little to fear from Brexit. The two-year period following Brexit, stated under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, will give DEFRA plenty of time to take over the reins of the UK’s agricultural policy. This will enable the implementation of a more effective agricultural policy, better suited to the needs of British farmers. This will also mean they will survive – and indeed thrive – long into the future. Britain’s farmers should dismiss the scaremongering and instead vote to Get Britain Out of the EU.