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The Withdrawal Agreement – A Warning to British Farmers

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Mrs May claims her deal frees us “to design a system of agricultural support that works for us.” In fact, it keeps our farmers under EU control and risks devastating our food production.

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During the ‘transition period’, EU law and the CAP apply in full to the UK. We will continue to fund EU27 farmers through the EU budget with no say and no right to implement our own agricultural policy.

If the transition is extended from January 2021, the EU can restrict British government subsidies to UK farmers “up to an annual level of support which shall not be more than the total amount of expenditure incurred in the United Kingdom under the Common Agricultural Policy in 2019.” The UK will be forced to keep support for British farmers at a level LOWER than that provided to their EU competitors: 2019 rates must apply from 2021 for however long the transition continues. This allows Brussels to subsidise EU farmers at a higher rate through the CAP whilst retaining tariff-free access to the UK market. It is designed to increase the EU’s share of the UK market by undercutting British farmers, and will put many out of business as they simply will not be able to compete on price.

If no trade agreement starts before the end of the transition period, the UK automatically enters the ‘Northern Ireland backstop’. This turns Northern Ireland into an EU protectorate and subjects the entire UK to ‘non-regression clauses’ which ensure that British agricultural policy remains an EU competence.

Under the ‘backstop’, EU agricultural and environmental regulations apply to Northern Ireland. But neither the UK nor the Northern Irish government will be allowed to carry out sanitary or veterinary checks on Northern Irish farms, including those required to stop the spread of disease. Only an EU member state may conduct such checks. In practice, Dublin will run agriculture in Northern Ireland, down to farm inspections, veterinary checks and the control of notifiable diseases. Not only is this an outrageous breach of UK sovereignty, it deprives DEFRA of effective mechanisms to stop infected livestock and animals from reaching mainland UK.

But it gets worse. The restrictions on financial support for all British farmers applicable during the transition period are locked in through the state aid provisions in the ‘backstop’. These provide for a “maximum overall annual level of support” for British farmers to be set by the  Joint Committee, a supranational governing body. British farmers are only permitted subsidies at rates several years behind those of the CAP. “The initial maximum exempted overall annual level of support shall be informed… by the annual average of the total amount of expenditure incurred in the United Kingdom customs territory under the Common Agricultural Policy under the current MFF 2014-2020.”

Given that the backstop could come into effect as late as 2023, subsidies for British farmers will be capped at levels applicable several years earlier. This gives a huge advantage to EU farmers, who will enjoy uprated CAP subsidies while retaining tariff-free access to the UK market. Not even the most efficient farmer could compete with the EU produce which would flood into the UK.

And lest you doubt that the EU means to exercise its power over British farmers to the full, the backstop requires the UK to establish an ‘independent authority’ with “powers and functions equivalent to those of the European Commission acting under the Union State aid law” to police subsidies to British farmers.

But won’t we be out of the transition period and backstop after a couple of years and able to do what we want? No. Aside from the impossibility of leaving either the transition period or the backstop without the EU’s permission, the Future Partnership Political Declaration ensures continuing EU control of British agricultural policy by requiring the implementation of “state aid, competition, social and employment standards, environmental standards, climate change, and relevant tax matters, building on the level playing field arrangements provided for in the Withdrawal Agreement.”

This means that the state aid provisions in the backstop, by which EU farmers gain a huge commercial advantage over their British counterparts, will have to continue, otherwise the EU will not allow us to exit the punitive arrangements enshrined in the Withdrawal Agreement.

This is not taking back control of the UK’s agricultural policy: it is herding British farmers into an EU-run ghetto and throwing away the key.

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Briefings For Britain