The UK government has introduced new legislation which ensures that farming subsidies will continue to be paid to UK farmers for 2020.
The Direct Payments to Farmers Bill, which was introduced in Parliament on Thursday (9 January), gives governments across the UK the power to administer direct payments to farmers for 2020, during the transition period that will follow the country’s departure from the EU on 31 January.
In a statement published by the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), a DEFRA spokesperson said the legislation gives “much-welcomed certainty to our farmers and food producers”.
They added that leaving the EU means the UK can “take back control of agricultural policy and fund our own farm payments domestically.”
The introduction of this Bill follows the Chancellor’s recent announcement that funding for direct payments will remain the same for 2020 as for 2019.
After this, the Agriculture Bill will provide a new system of farm support, which aims to move away from the EU’s Direct Payments structure and move instead towards a system where farmers are paid ‘public money for public goods’, such as enhancing air and water quality, tackling climate change or improving animal welfare.
Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers made it clear in her recent speech at the Oxford Farming Conference that the Direct Payments scheme will not be maintained long-term, saying that UK government will soon start to reduce Direct Payments in the UK.
Instead, Villiers emphasised that, after Brexit, the UK must “shake off the shadow of the CAP” and instead begin a transition in 2021 towards “radical” new policies that work for planet, people and the farming sector.
She stressed that this will be done in a “fair and progressive way”.
The UK National Farmers’ Union (NFU) welcomed the publication of the Farm Payments Bill, calling it a “critical step to increasing certainty for farmers as we leave the European Union”.
NFU Director of EU Exit Nick von Westenholz said that the NFU was “pleased to see this confirmation of the Conservative manifesto commitment to maintain current levels of support”.
He said this move will provide a degree of certainty and stability for UK farmers as the UK enters a critical stage of negotiating our future trading relationships with the EU and other countries in the coming year.
Von Westenholz added that to ensure a positive outlook for UK farming after they leave the EU, the government will “need to couple this financial guarantee of support for UK industry with a clear-cut commitment that domestic producers will not be unfairly undermined by imports from overseas produced to standards that would be illegal here.”
“We are still waiting for the introduction of a council on trade and standards that can advise ministers on our future trade policy and scrutinise the forthcoming negotiations to ensure our high farming standards are not undermined by substandard imports.”
NFU Vice President Stuart Roberts added that the NFU will “continue to engage with government on future agricultural policy, which needs to support sustainable food production in the UK and lead the world in pursuing a progressive and sustainable trade policy that has our high environmental and welfare standards at its heart.”
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]