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Analysis

Gove’s farm and fish plan would torpedo transition

by Luke Lythgoe | 31.10.2017

A government minister has said that “farming and fishing should not be part of any transitional deal” after Brexit. This is likely to be rejected by Brussels, and would also prove unworkable – especially for producers along the Irish border.

Ian Duncan, minister at the Scotland Office, told farmers on Friday that Michael Gove, the secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs, has been “very clear” that he wants farming and fisheries policy to come back to the UK in 2019.

Brussels, however, is unlikely to play ball. The European Parliament, which needs to ratify the withdrawal deal, says a transition must involve the “continuation of the whole of the acquis communautaire”, the EU’s body of rules. That includes the common fisheries and agricultural policies.

The Scottish and Welsh governments, which manage their own farming policies, will also not welcome Gove’s haste. Holyrood is concerned that 18 months is not long enough to implement an entirely new farm subsidies regime. Paying farm subsidies on time has proven tricky even inside the EU. Farmers could easily end up out of pocket.

Brexiters might argue that it’s up to the SNP to pull its finger out. They might also expect the EU to compromise. After all, Norway abides by the rules of the EU’s single market but keeps a separate agricultural and fisheries policy. So there’s a precedent.

But Norway is not part of the EU’s customs union, whereas Theresa May wants us to have access to the EU’s market under current terms during the transition she’s hoping to get. If the UK took control of its agriculture and fisheries before a deal, that wouldn’t be possible. The EU would not trust that its standards were being met. Vehicles would need to be checked for fish and farm produce at the borders.

This would be most problematic for Northern Ireland. The island of Ireland has a highly integrated agri-food sector which involves many food products crossing the border several times during their production. Some farms even straddle the border. Customs checks would place a huge burden of costly bureaucracy on Irish producers. It has even been suggested that, were cross-border production to become too complicated, farmers might be tempted to relocate south of the border to maintain access to the EU single market.

Gove presumably knows his quick Brexit is unworkable. If so he needs to be honest with farmers and fishermen, rather than putting their livelihoods at risk by misleading them about the complexities of Brexit.

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Edited by Hugo Dixon

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