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UK aristocrats, billionaire and Saudi prince given EU farm subsidies

Published 29/09/2016

Sir James Dyson is in the top 100 recipients of EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies
Sir James Dyson is in the top 100 recipients of EU Common Agricultural Policy subsidies

Wealthy aristocrats and a Saudi landowning prince are continuing to reap hundreds of thousands of pounds from the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy.

At least one in five of the top 100 recipients of CAP subsidies in the UK last year were farm businesses owned or controlled by members of aristocratic families, an investigation by environmental campaign group Greenpeace found.

They include the Queen, the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Northumberland, Sir Richard Sutton, the Earl of Moray, Baron Phillimore and family, and the Earl of Plymouth.

Household goods billionaire Sir James Dyson, who campaigned for Brexit, is also in the top 100.

Greenpeace analysed the top recipients of CAP subsidies in the UK for the first time.

Some 16 of the top 100 are owned or controlled by individuals or families who feature on the 2016 Sunday Times Rich List, receiving a total of £10.6 million last year in "single payment scheme" subsidies alone, and £13.4 million in total farm subsidies, Greenpeace said.

Aberdeenshire farmer Frank Smart topped the list, receiving nearly £3 million in grants for his Banchory business, Frank A Smart & Son Ltd.

The farmer has been subject to complaints that he has been "slipper farming" - a technique in which farmers buy up land principally for the grants attached to it. While not illegal, the practise has been heavily criticised.

Also on the list were organisations such as the National Trust, which Greenpeace said had used t heir subsidies for important conservation work like managing habitats.

The Government has promised to maintain CAP subsidies post-Brexit until 2020 while a domestic system is put in place.

Prince Khalid Abdullah al Saud, who owns champion racehorse Frankel, has reportedly described his farming interest as a hobby.

Juddmonte Farms, which he owns through an offshore holding company in Guernsey, received £406,826 in farm subsidies last year, of which £378,856 came from the single payment scheme.

The two large estates owned by Sir James under Beeswax Farming (Rainbow) Ltd received almost £1.5 million (£1,437,706.39).

The billionaire rubbished claims that British international trade would suffer outside the EU as he backed the campaign to leave Europe.

Hannah Martin, of Greenpeace UK's Brexit Response Team, said: " It is untenable for the Government to justify keeping a farming policy which allows a billionaire to breed racehorses on land subsidised by taxpayers. It's clear that there cannot be a business-as-usual approach to farm subsidies after we leave the EU.

"Some of the recipients of these subsidies are doing great work which benefits our environment - but others are not - and it makes no sense that the CAP's largest subsidy payments don't distinguish between the two."

Christopher Price, from the Country Land Association, told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "He is not getting it because he's a racehorse owner, he's getting it because he's a farmer and all developed countries support farming in one way or another."

But he agreed that Britain's departure from the EU could create an opportunity to reform the system, for which there was "certainly" a need.

Sandringham Farms, the estate owned by the Queen, received more than half a million pounds (£557,706.52), while Grosvenor Farms Limited, which farms the Duke of Westminster's estate, raked in £437,433.96.

The billionaire landowner died in August and left his fortune to his 25-year-old son.

Percy Farms, described by Greenpeace as the "in-hand farming operation" of the Duke of Northumberland, was given £475,030.70

The National Trust, Natural England and the RSPB were all in the top 20.

The top 100 received £87.9 million in agricultural subsidies last year, of which £61.2 million came from the single payment scheme, where the size of the land owned largely determines the grant amount.

Greenpeace said this was more than what was paid to the bottom 55,119 recipients in the single payment scheme combined.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said: " The Secretary of State has underlined the need for continuity for farmers and together with her ministerial team is looking forward to working with industry, rural communities and the wider public to shape our plans for food, farming and the environment outside the EU."

Conservative ministers Lord Gardiner and Eurosceptic George Eustice, who work in Defra, also receive subsidies.

The department said the pair had declared any potential conflicts of interest, complied with the Ministerial Code and were cleared to discuss the future of the grants post-Brexit.

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