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Last Updated: 19 September 2019

MPs blast Defra’s ‘vague’ approach to Brexit
Johann Tasker
Wednesday 6 June 2018 14:55 
An influential committee of MPs has lambasted Defra’s approach to Brexit, saying farmers urgently need more detail about support mechanisms for agriculture after the UK leaves the European Union.
The warning follows a three-month inquiry examining whether Defra will deliver on proposals to increase farm competitiveness and enhance the environment. The inquiry was conducted by the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) committee.
Defra wants to replace direct payments with a system largely based on support for environmental measures. However, farm leaders say the plan fails to recognise the importance of agriculture and threatens to expose UK farmers to substandard food imports.
The committee of MPs recommend that the government ring-fences future funding for farming, provides greater detail on new support mechanisms – including tax breaks and capital grants – and maintains environmental and welfare standards on food imports (see “Efra committee key recommendations”).
Banned in UK
This week, American president Donald Trump blamed “big trade barriers” for discriminating against US farmers, reigniting fears that British farmers may have to compete against imports of chlorinated chicken and hormone-produced beef – both currently banned in the UK.
Committee chairman Neil Parish said a new funding model for agriculture was essential to ensure farming prospered after Brexit. It is also important that any trade agreements ensure imported products met UK standards and avoided a regulatory race to the bottom.
Mr Parish said: “We seek more clarity on funding, delivery and timing. The government risks not achieving its ambition and damaging the sector. The government should respond to the farming sector’s concerns and provide clarity as soon as possible.”
NFU president Minette Batters welcomed the report’s recommendation that the government rejects any trade deal that paves the way for food imports below UK standards. She added: “It is vital that British farming’s produce and contribution to the nation is not undermined.”
Fresh approach
A Defra spokesperson said Brexit was a historic opportunity to design a fresh approach to farming. “We have set out ambitious proposals to raise productivity and move away from land-based subsidies so we can reward farmers for the public goods they provide.”
The government has committed to match the £3bn in farm support until the end of this parliament in 2022, followed by a longer agricultural transition period to give farmers time to adapt, said the Defra spokesperson.
“We had more than 44,000 responses to our consultation, which we are analysing before bringing forward an Agriculture Bill later this year. We welcome the support shown by the Efra committee for this consultation and will respond to their report in due course.”
Efra committee key recommendations
Support: Withdrawing direct payments will be “ particularly damaging” for grazing livestock, cereal and mixed farms. The government should identify support for small and medium-sized farms and ring-fence funds for the rural economy and environment.
Competitiveness: The government should produce a farm productivity plan by May 2019 that investigates new tax breaks, advice centres, capital grant support and the successor to the government’s agri-tech fund, among other areas.
Environment: There is broad support for animal health and welfare within Defra’s planned policy of “public money for public goods”. But the report says the government should consider food policy and its ability to improve public health more widely.
Standards: It will be hard for Defra to find the right body to co-ordinate its national public goods framework and avoid a “race to the bottom” in standards. An assessment of public bodies is required to co-ordinate a planned environmental land management scheme.
Trade and labelling: The government should ensure that any trade agreements keep agri-food imports out of the country if they are below the UK’s environmental, animal welfare and food standards. This will be supported by better country-of-origin labelling.

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