The future of agriculture policy across the United Kingdom after Brexit is uncertain and risky, according to a new paper by Professor Michael Keating of the Centre on Constitutional Change. Reforms of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy over recent years have shifted the emphasis from farming to the broader concept of rural policy. As member states have gained more discretion in applying policy, the nations of the UK have also diverged, according to local conditions and preferences.
In England, the emphasis has been on large-scale production and marketization. Scotland, Wales (until now) and Northern Ireland have stressed social factors such as the need to retain the population in fragile and remote communities. The devolved nations benefited from much larger proportional spending than England.
Discussions are under way as to what UK-wide frameworks might be put in place to replace the EU policy frames. These have focused on detailed competences rather than the broad principles.
A committee has been set up to recommend on how agricultural spending should be distributed after Brexit. It will not be rolled into the Barnett Formula. Contrary to much commentary, applying Barnett would have been the best deal for the devolved nations. Instead, there will be new criteria based on needs. Need, however, is a contested and subjective idea. We do not know how far devolved governments will be able to define their own needs and priorities. England and Wales have decided to phase out direct support for farmers. Scotland has not.
What does seem certain is that the money available for agriculture and rural policy will be reduced.