Farming Brexit concern for Environmental Parliamentary committee

The Environmental Audit Committee is calling on the Government to introduce a new Environmental Protection Act during Article 50 negotiations to maintain the UK's strong environmental standards.

Environmental Audit Committee (EAC) chair Mary Creagh MP said: "Changes from Brexit could put our countryside, farming and wildlife at risk. Protections for Britain's wildlife and special places currently guaranteed under European law could end up as 'zombie legislation' even with the Great Repeal Bill.

"The Government should safeguard protections for Britain's wildlife and special places in a new Environmental Protection Act.

"UK farming faces significant risks – from a loss of subsidies and tariffs on farm exports to increased competition from countries with weaker food, animal welfare and environmental standards. The Government must not trade away these key protections as we leave the EU. It should also give clarity over any future farm subsidies."

A new report by the Environmental Audit Committee suggests that protections for wildlife and habitats could be weaker after the UK leaves the EU if the Government doesn't take action before, or in the early stages of the Article 50 process. The MPs looked at the legislative, trade, and financial issues and make recommendations for action to secure the future of the natural environment. They call on the Government to allow full parliamentary scrutiny of its plans for the future of environmental legislation after Brexit.

The committee said copying EU legislation into UK law will "not be enough for up to one third of the UK's environmental protections" and wants a new Environmental Protection law passed before Brexit.

Leaving the EU will involve changes with the UK’s relationships with international markets, the committee added: "UK farmers face a 'triple jeopardy' from changes in the UK’s trading relationships negotiated after Brexit. First, the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) makes up 50-60 per cent of farm incomes, so leaving the CAP will threaten the viability of some farms. Second, trade agreements which impose tariff or non-tariff barriers on UK farm exports threaten farm and food business incomes. Third, new trading relationships with the rest of the world could lead to increased competition from larger economies with lower animal welfare, food safety and environmental standards.

"It is not clear whether there will be subsidies for farmers after we leave the EU. Any new farm subsidies which the Government introduces to replace CAP should provide a better balance between support to agriculture and environmental protection. New subsidies should have clearly defined objectives linked to the delivery of public goods, like the promotion of biodiversity, preventing flooding and storing carbon, rather than simply providing income support to farmers. The determination of which public goods to support should be evidence-based, with the aim of addressing market failure. Any possible future scheme should be more able to allow innovative technologies for protecting the environment."
 
Creagh said: "It was concerning that the Environment Secretary gave my Committee no reassurance that there would be subsidies for farmers after we leave the EU."

The Government has said it will introduce a 'Great Repeal Bill' to transpose and retain European Legislation into UK law when we leave the EU.

NFU vice president Guy Smith said in response to the report: "British farmers work to a very high standard for animal welfare, food safety and environmental protection. We believe strongly that any standards are not watered down if we are forced to compete against agricultures in other parts of the world that clearly do not have such high standards as ours. Clearly we must not be put at a competitive disadvantage.

"It is essential for the food and farming sector to maintain full, unfettered access to the single market while having continued access to a flexible, competent and reliable workforce.  Retaining tariff-free access is vital for UK farmers - it’s where 75 per cent of our food exports go.

"The EAC has rightly recognised that farming and the environment go hand-in-hand and that producing quality, home-grown food is critical to the future of the country. Viable farming businesses will be best placed to contribute to the environment. The food and drink sector is the bedrock of the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, which is worth £108bn to the economy and supports 3.9million jobs. It is an industry proud to produce food for the nation, and the world.

"The EAC recommended that support payments should be linked to public goods. It is our view that food security and food production should be regarded as strategically important for the country and good for the public. It is disappointing that the EAC failed to mention this.

"The NFU urges Government to commit to working with farmers to establish a domestic farming policy designed to ensure a resilient farming sector alongside work to protect and enhance the environment.  The domestic agricultural policy should seek to deliver competitive, profitable and progressive farm businesses through a number of measures which also address price and market volatility and improvements in sectoral economic performance.   

"Farmers across the country understand the importance of protecting the environment and ensuring we have a thriving countryside. For example, planting or restoring 30km of hedgerows and increasing the number of nectar and pollen rich areas by 134 per cent in the past two years. Farmers continue to fulfil their role of providing high quality food, produced to exacting welfare and environmental standards. We want to maintain those standards once we leave Europe."

  • The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told the Committee that approximately a third of the over 800 pieces of EU environmental legislation will be difficult to transpose into UK law.
  • More than 70 per cent if the land area of the UK is in some form of agricultural use.
  • EU farm subsidies currently make up to around 50-60 per cent of UK farm income.
  • Total UK CAP expenditure last year was £3.5 billion, much of this Pillar 1.
  • CAP provides subsidies to farmers on a per hectate basis for land actively farmed (Pillar 1) and for rural development activities, including those intended to have an environmental benefit (Pillar 2).
  • Payments to farmers are subject to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules. The EU has a specific agreement with the WTO covering those CAP payments.
  • If the UK chooses not to enter into an arrangement with the European Single Market the UK farming industry may face tariffs and non-tariff barriers when exporting produce to the EU.
  • The Committee was told that sheep exports could face in excess of 30 per cent tariffs and beef 50 per cent if the UK did not have free access to the Single Market.

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