Right-of-centre think tank argues for end to production subsidies

Policy advisers close to Defra secretary Michael Gove have urged a new approach to UK farming support post-Brexit which would do away with the subsidies the sector currently enjoys.

Image: HW
Image: HW

A report, Farming Tomorrow: British agriculture after Brexit, published this week by Policy Exchange, the right-of-centre think tank co-founded by Gove 15 years ago, calls for:

  • direct subsidies for agricultural production and income support to be phased out over a five-year period from 2020;
  • any remaining subsides to be redirected towards protection for "natural and public goods", and increasing R&D to boost innovation and productivity;
  • food tariffs to be "unilaterally" phased out;
  • reform or abandonment of "perverse" EU rules such as the crop diversification rule;
  • self-sufficiency in food not to be a policy goal.

It said the goal of a newly independent UK farming policy "should be to create a highly productive, dynamic farming sector, which is more specialised and capable of competing in global markets", adding that Brexit provides an opportunity for the UK "to become a world leader in AgriTech".

Last week Professor Dieter Helm, head of Natural Capital Committee which is advising Defra on its 25-year plan for the environment, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Farmers receive not just the £3bn of subsidy, they receive a whole range of other benefits that nobody else in the economy gets" - including the exemption of business rates and inheritance tax for farmland, and the use of "red" diesel which incurs a lower rate of duty.

He added: "In this reassessment of support and subsidies for farmland we have to put the industry on a long-term reasonable and fair basis with other perfectly legitimate industries and business in the economy."

A Defra representative said: "These ideas are not under consideration."

In his recent "Green Brexit" speech, Gove said: "I want to ensure that we go on generously supporting farmers for many more years to come. But that support can only be argued for against other competing public goods if the environmental benefits of that spending are clear."

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