Michael Gove commits to maintain farm subsidy support levels
Michael Gove has reiterated the UK Government’s commitment to maintain EU subsidy support levels to the Scottish agriculture sector until the 2022 elections whatever form of Brexit progresses, with the Environment Secretary confirming that it will be left to the Scottish Government to decide how funds are divided between Scotland’s farmers.
Giving evidence on the implications of the UK’s exit from the EU to the Scottish Parliament’s Rural Affairs and Connectivity committee, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs also gave assurances that specific support to Scotland’s hill and sheep farmers – widely recognised as being especially vulnerable to a no-deal Brexit – would be available.
But with SNP MSP Maureen Watt highlighting concerns the sector could face a mass slaughter of sheep and tariffs of up to 50 per cent should a no-deal Brexit happen, Gove declined to commit to making £160m of back-dated EU convergence funding available, while stating the slaughter of sheep and other measures would not be necessary.
Gove said: “Maureen Watt is absolutely right to point out that the sector of UK farming to be most quickly effected by a no-deal exit will be the sheep meat sector and we have developed a scheme that in the event of a no deal exit will mean that we can support the income of sheep farmers, [and] on that basis there should not be any need for the kinds of measures that [she] mention because it would be the case that the incomes of hill farmers and sheep farmers would be protected from the initial shock of the EU exit.”
The minister confirmed that the UK government was exploring a scheme for England’s upland and sheep farmers that would provide a subsidy based on the numbers of breeding ewes held by a farmer, but also stated that he would look at any alternative approaches advanced by the Scottish Government.
Gove said an independent review of the farm subsidy system was under way and that he would not pre-empt its conclusions. He added: “It is the UK Government that can make the resources available to support upland farmers and sheep farmers, and we stand ready to provide that support in any eventuality. If we want to avoid a no-deal exit, one of the best ways to do that is to vote for the deal Theresa May has brought forward. The [subsidy] review is looking at all the issues concerned, that review is independent and the right thing to do is to vote for the PM’s deal and then work with the independent review to ensure that we can give farmers across the UK a fair allocation in the future.”