Minister signals Brexit dividend boost for farming
Leaving the European Union would pay an £18 billion a year "Brexit dividend" which would allow the UK to spend £2 billion on farming and the environment, Farming Minister George Eustice has said.
Mr Eustice sought to reassure farmers at the National Farmers' Union annual conference that "without a shadow of doubt" they would continue to receive the subsidies for farming and environmental measures from an independent UK as they are currently paid through the EU's agriculture policy.
The EU referendum has split the Environment Department (Defra), with Environment Secretary Liz Truss backing the campaign to remain, but her junior minister for food, farming and the marine environment declaring support for leaving the bloc.
The NFU conference had heard from Ms Truss that it would be wrong to take "a leap into the dark" at a time of volatile prices and global market uncertainty, putting the £11 billion food and farming export trade to the EU at risk.
Farmers have voiced concerns that Brexit would prevent them having access to the single market and the Treasury would not match the £2.4 billion of support they get through Europe, which accounts for an average 53% of farm incomes.
But Mr Eustice has told farmers at the conference the UK would do "far better" outside the EU, able to design and implement its own policies to support food and farming.
"I have taken a view, having wrestled with all sorts of EU regulation over the last two and a half years, that we would do far better as a country if we ended the supremacy of Europe and shaped new fresh thinking policies that really deliver for our agriculture.
"The truth of the matter is if we left the EU there would be an £18 billion a year Brexit dividend, so could we find the money to spend £2 billion a year on farming and the environment? Of course we could," he said.
"Would we? Without a shadow of a doubt."
He insisted a reinvigorated national parliament would demand the Treasury spent money on farming and environmental land management, and that bilateral agreements between the UK and EU would allow Britain more influence over the kind of regulations that farmers say they are hampered by.
Challenged to lay out what a post-Brexit policy for the countryside would look like, he said it would take away the split between payments for productive land and for environmentally friendly farming, streamline the environmental protection rules farmers must meet to get any payments and invest more in science and technology.
He also said payments for wildlife friendly farming schemes would continue, but the application system for them could be improved, and there could be payments to reward high animal welfare as well as for environmental measures.
"All of this would be possible if we took back control and had the ability to design and implement policies properly," he said.