The last vestiges of the EU’s agricultural policy will still be in place in the U.K. in 2027 — nearly a decade after the country leaves the bloc — according to the British government’s post-Brexit plans.
In the government’s first major piece of legislation mapping out post-EU policy, Environment and Food Secretary Michael Gove is set to present sweeping changes Wednesday to the agriculture sector. Gove’s plan will phase out the EU’s sacrosanct direct payment scheme under the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which props up farmers’ wages based on the amount of land they own, and instead link farmers’ payments to environmental standards.
The bill will also ensure British farmers no longer have to contend with rules that critics of the CAP say are too stringent and unfit for the modern-day challenges of food production and the environment.
The cut to direct payments will kick in for the first time in 2021 and continue until they are totally eradicated after 2027. For example, annual payments of up to £30,000 will be cut by 5 percent in the first year of the transition, while payments of £150,000 or more will fall by 25 percent.
The proposal is designed to draw the curtains on a situation where the U.K.’s top 10 percent of farm subsidy recipients now rake in almost 50 percent of all EU agricultural payments that go to the country.
“After nearly 50 years of being tied to burdensome and outdated EU rules, we have an opportunity to deliver a Green Brexit,” Gove said in a statement. “This Bill will allow us to reward farmers who protect our environment, leaving the countryside in a cleaner, greener and healthier state for future generations.”
The bill pledges to guarantee the same amount of money now going toward the farming sector in both 2019 and 2020. Officials from Gove’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said the amount of money individual farmers receive after 2021 will depend on what efforts they make to improve the environment. The European Commission, meanwhile, has plans to cut CAP funding by 5 percent for the period between 2021 and 2027, though some EU27 countries — led by France — are against the move.
Britain’s idea to phase out direct payments, which account for the lion’s share of money inside the CAP, is linked to international pressure on farmers to help combat climate change and protect the environment. In Britain, the additional money for the environment will be paid to farmers that agree to do things such as reduce ammonia emissions, plant trees and maintain hedgerows as habitats for wildlife, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said.
Under the new system, “farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards,” the department said.
While most farm groups in the U.K. accept that direct payments should be cut in favor of schemes that improve the environment, groups such as the National Farmers’ Union say direct payments are the most effective way of managing volatility for farms.
“To think the transition period goes beyond the government term gives a message of long-term stability,” said Phil Stocker, chief executive of the National Sheep Association, which represents lamb farmers in the U.K. “It’s better than what we would have hoped for.”
But, Stocker added, it remains to be seen how farmers across the board will go about tapping into the U.K.’s environmental schemes while ensuring their business models remain profitable. “Farm enterprises still have to get to the point where they are viable without being propped up by environmental payments,” he said.
The approach taken by Britain stands in stark contrast to the EU’s own draft legislation on how to reform the CAP, which largely maintains the role of direct payments, albeit with slight reductions in part due to Brexit, but also due to pressures to spend more of the overall EU budget on security and migration.
The government’s bill also suggests “delinking” direct payments from an existing requirement to actually farm the land, in order to encourage new entrants into the sector. And it details how the U.K. plans to strengthen farmers’ bargaining powers in the food supply chain to help them get a better deal in the marketplace.