THE impact of Britain’s decision to leave the European Union will be felt most keenly within rural businesses and communities.
The rural economy has been shaped by agricultural and environmental policies drawn up at EU level since we joined in 1975. Whatever your views on the UK’s relationship with the EU, membership provided the regulatory framework that has governed the environment, trading relationships and the way businesses operate, and as the basis of significant investment decisions for more than 40 years.
Now the UK has voted to leave, there are immediate decisions that need to be made by the Government in relation to the rural economy. Europe is an important market for British products, the EU provides vital direct land management payments to farmers, and the free movement of European workers is critical to our agricultural labour force.
Under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) UK farmers currently receive almost £4 billion in support, and farmers and landowners have budgeted to receive these payments through to the end of the current CAP in 2020. Farmers and other rural businesses will be waiting anxiously to understand the impact that leaving will have on their finances. Many farmers rely on these CAP payments to pay suppliers and staff and provide important environmental land management.
Although the Leave campaign, which includes Farming Minister George Eustice, committed to continuing to support farmers in the event of Brexit, the UK government must decide whether it is prepared to underwrite these payments if we leave the EU before the end of 2020.
A swift decision is vital as the longer there is uncertainty over whether these CAP payments will continue the greater the impact on the rural economy. Businesses will fail to invest and face tough choices about their viability.
No country outside of the EU is a member of the CAP so discussions must begin around what a UK Agricultural Policy (UKAP) will look like. There is already confusion over exactly what any support scheme would look like and how much money would be available.
Many organisations alongside the CLA have an interest in the structure and size of a new scheme and one can assume creating the UKAP will take a significant amount of time and negotiation, meaning an early start to get it right is essential. There must be a seamless transition from one policy to the other. It is unacceptable for the UK to leave the EU without a fully-funded alternative to the CAP in place.
Failure to make the right decisions and provide quick reassurances puts rural jobs and investment at serious risk. The CLA is ready to hold the Government to account to ensure it is making the right decisions for the future of agriculture and the rural economy outside the EU.
The CLA’s EU report Leave or Remain showcases the impact of the CAP on the rural economy.
Dorothy Fairburn is the Country Land and Business Association (CLA) regional director for the north. The CLA is a membership group of rural landowners who lobby the government on rural business and land issues.