UK Environment secretary: Brexit is opportunity for UK to ‘shake off shadow of CAP’

Cabinet Meeting in London [EPA]

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, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers has said.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference on Wednesday (8 January), an annual UK farming conference, Villiers set out the vision for the future of agriculture in the UK.

She acknowledged the “concern felt about the uncertainty and wrangling in Parliament over Brexit in the last two years,” but said that the government will “maintain and indeed enhance UK standards” as they negotiate new trading relationships with friends and neighbours in the EU and leading global economies.

However, she assured that high food standards will be protected as the UK seeks trade deals after Brexit and emphasised that Boris Johnson’s government “will always back Britain’s farmers”.

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“Our ambition is to incentivise a profitable, productive, sustainable farming sector, using fewer inputs, producing healthy animals and reduced pollution and achieving healthier soils, and cleaner water and air.”

In her speech, Villiers confirmed that the government will guarantee the annual budget for farmers in every year of this Parliament, a key ask of National Farmers’ Union.

However, she said that they will start to reduce Direct Payments in the UK, but will do so in a “fair and progressive way”.

“One of the greatest advantages of leaving the EU, after all these years, is that we finally have the chance to sweep away the CAP,” Villiers said.

“Put simply, our aim is a managed and fair transition to a system tailored to our needs in this country, based on the principle of public money for public goods.”

Villiers added that there will be a strong focus on investment into sustainable production, specifically referencing funding to get technology out into farms and fields for more precise application of nutrients, and greater use of robotics and energy-efficient machinery.

Villiers also used her conference speech as an opportunity to reassure farmers that high food standards will be protected as the UK seeks trade deals in the wake of Brexit. 

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She stressed that the UK will not “imperil our domestic and international reputation built on quality, and grounded in our shared national values” and will not “dilute the UK’s strong environmental protection or our high standards of food safety and animal welfare”.

She said that “our strong British food brand is built on the high standards to which we hold ourselves,” stating that the UK can “maintain and indeed enhance its standards as we negotiate new trading relationships with friends and neighbours in the EU and leading global economies.”

A prominent Brexit campaigner during the 2016 referendum, Villiers insisted that the UK Government will defend its national interest “strongly” in forthcoming trade negotiations with the EU, and “will be prepared to walk away from those negotiations if that is in the national interest.” 

However, she emphasised that Brexit offered the UK the opportunity to open up new markets for the UK’s high-quality produce around the world and promote their values overseas through trade negotiations.

“Let me end by saying that after difficult years of division, we are now on the brink of an opportunity to really unleash this country’s potential and farming can play a vital role in that process.”

(Edited by Benjamin Fox)

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