Opinions and insights from our Agriculture team
Opinions and insights from our Agriculture team
Following the decisive defeat of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal in parliament this week, Julie Robinson considers the implications for the Agriculture Bill if the UK does not leave the EU.
The whole rationale behind the Agriculture Bill was to enable a new support scheme for farmers to be put in place following our departure from the EU and the common agricultural policy. There are, however, some other elements in the bill which could survive a no-Brexit outcome.
Without the freedom to determine our own domestic agricultural policy, much of the bill will be consigned to the no-Brexit bonfire of draft legislation. If we stay in the EU, we will continue to be bound by the same CAP framework as all other member states. That is pretty much the end of the line as far as internal discussions about a radical new support policy based on public goods delivery goes, unless significant discretion is allowed to member states under the EU rules that will govern the CAP from 2020.
Candidates for removal
There will be no need for a primary act allowing the government to design and make payments under agricultural or environmental support schemes. That will all happen at EU level, under the CAP. At most a few subordinate domestic regulations would be required, as is the case now, to cover decisions over which member states are given discretion.
This happens at EU level. The UK government has no power to support market prices unless permitted by EU rules. There will be no need for primary domestic legislation to cover the point.
If the UK stays in the EU, we will have little scope to depart from the rules on marketing standards and carcass classification which are set down in EU legislation.
The sole purpose of the Agriculture Bill provisions was to exempt POs and associated organisations from domestic competition law restrictions. If we remain in the EU, the EU’s own exemption will cover the activities of POs and these clauses will not be needed.
Although the UK is a member of the World Trade Organisation in its own right, it operates for WTO purposes under the umbrella of the EU and is subject to the EU’s common commercial and agricultural policies. If we remain in the EU, there will be no need for separate domestic legislation to ensure compliance with WTO Agreement on Agriculture.
Candidates for survival
Increased transparency in the food chain can be legislated for whether or not we are in the EU.
The government’s ability to legislate for compulsory contracts in dairy and other sectors is not hampered by EU law; the EU’s Common Markets Organisation regulation allows member states to do just that, although in a more restrictive way than that allowed for in the Agriculture Bill. Even if we remain in the EU we can expect some legislative action on milk contracts and, possibly, in other sectors too. However, any mandatory requirements can be set out in subordinate regulations rather than by an Act of Parliament.
The Agriculture Bill was amended during the public committee stage to enable a scheme dealing with the distribution of the red meat levy between AHDB, Quality Meat Scotland and Hybu Cig Cymru (Meat Promotion Wales). The amendment arises from a long-running dispute about fair distribution of the levy. Whether or not the UK leaves the EU, this matter needs to be resolved and formally implemented.
Candidates for future incorporation
These did not make it into the Agriculture bill last year. Farm minister George Eustice has, however, said that the government will consult in early 2019 on proposals coming out of the Tenancy Reform Industry Group, with a view to bringing forward legislation to deal with them. Possible changes in relation to AHA tenancies include allowing tenancies with succession rights to be assigned at open market rent where there are no successors, raising the bar on suitability of succession applicants, and allowing a mechanism for tenants to challenge restrictions in their tenancies. In relation to FBTs the main TRIG recommendations focussed on removing barriers to longer term tenancies.
The government consulted on the statutory levy board in 2018. Any fundamental changes to its remit or to levy rules would need to be legislated for. The power to make changes to the way the red meat levy is distributed has already been incorporated into the bill (see above).
Of course, we simply do not know at this very late stage, whether we will leave the EU on 29 March (with or without a deal), whether we will leave at a later date, or whether we will remain inside the bloc. Like all other businesses across the country, farm businesses have to plan for all eventualities. Having seen the Agriculture Bill and accompanying policy statement, some may feel that staying in the CAP is not a bad option.
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