UK Agriculture and Brexit

After the UK leaves the EU it will also withdraw from the EU Common Agricultural Policy thus creating the space for a new agri-food policy for the UK. Unlike other policy areas where the UK will retain EU law after exit day in the area of agriculture the UK is designing a new policy that will depart from the EU Common Agricultural Policy. 

Within its stated objective to deliver a green Brexit, the Government is committed to developing an ambitious and multi-purpose agricultural policy which it claims will: provide support to farmers, ensure protection of environment and public health, boost biodiversity, develop new environmental land management systems and provide high animal welfare standards.

The ultimate objective is to pave the way towards a ‘sustainable agriculture’ model in the UK aligned with the most recent UN Guidelines. Those guidelines aim to assist national decision-makers in integrating the goals and targets of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into national policies and programmes.

Brexit offers an opportunity to develop new and better approaches to agricultural regulation and policy. This opportunity is welcomed by many as the EU Common Agriculture Policy has been subject to criticism over the years both in terms of its subsidy payment model and its impact on the natural environment. Nonetheless, delivering such an ambitious UK agricultural policy within tight time constraints may prove a daunting task. Despite the urgency of addressing this issue, there are as yet scarce details about the new policy model that will replace direct payments from EU CAP funds. The Government proposes for the “new agricultural policy to be underpinned by payment of public money for the provision of public goods”. The new environmental land management system, as the ‘cornerstone’ of this new policy, will provide the mechanisms for the Government to address the environmental goals set out in the 25 Year Environment Plan.

To that end, the Agricultural Bill should provide a legal framework for this new policy model. Though the Bill provides some indication of public goods eligible for financial assistance, it does not clearly define what constitutes a public good. Having a clear understanding of this definition is a starting point in designing any support system as it delineates the scope of new agricultural policy. If we understand public good as benefit, in particular any enhancement to the natural environment, there has to be a greater coherence and alignment of this new policy with measures undertaken in related policy areas. A good illustration is policy on climate change as emissions from the agricultural sector account for 10 per cent of UK greenhouse gas emissions. 

The Agricultural Bill also fails to provide more detail on how this new system of financial support will operate. Finally, as agriculture is a devolved matter, ensuring consistency and engagement of actors at different levels of policy-making may prove to be a challenging task.

Dr Aleksandra Cavoski, Senior Lecturer - Birmingham Law School

* Dr Aleksandra Cavoski will be attending and delivering a session on 'UK agriculture and Brexit' at the UK Agriculture Policy: Sustainability in post-Brexit Britain conference on May 3rd. Details to attend are available here.

**Further articles on EU Environmental Law and Brexit can be read in the  Environmental Law Network International Review