Farmers expect pragmatism not posturing in Brexit constitutional row By CLA Cymru Director Rebecca Williams

In this blog CLA Cymru Director Rebecca Williams takes a look at how Brexit is being complicated by devolved power

The UK is a very different country today to the one that joined the EU in 1972.  ‘Domestic politics’ means something very different in 2017 - the creation of assemblies and parliaments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland mean that the not-so-simple task of extracting the UK from EU law is made infinitely more complex. 

Most of the rules that govern farmers lives originate in EU law. However, since devolution the way they are interpreted for the nations and implemented are largely decided by Cardiff, Holyrood and Stormont. In other words, it is the devolved institutions that interpret how to apply EU law from environmental conditions and distributing money for farm support to environmental schemes and rural economic development.

The vote to leave was a clear instruction that the EU should no longer have ultimate authority over these things, but it didn’t settle who should have these powers instead.

So as MPs met this week for the first substantive vote on Brexit, it is a worry that there is no agreement as to how things are going to work once we leave the EU.

Ministers in Westminster are proposing that European law is returned to the UK statute books and ‘retained’ at Westminster to ease the negotiation trade deals. These laws will be fixed in time, and according to devolved governments, challenge the devolutionary settlements that exist within the UK. UK Ministers say that this need only be temporary, they will hold these powers until decisions are made on what further powers should be devolved.

Welsh Ministers are concerned that they will lose some of the powers they currently have.  And what’s more, they trust not-at-all that when it comes to it, UK Ministers will respect the devolved settlement. Instead, they argue, EU laws will come directly to them and they can then choose to contribute in any UK frameworks on farm or land use policy.

So, what is right for farmers? Well, we know what won’t work - allowing an impasse to remain and for no decisions to be reached. UK agriculture operates across political boundaries.  For example, lamb sold in Brecon is sent to Bridlington for slaughter and then further afield for processing. It is impractical to imagine an outcome where there is no common approach across the supply chain in the UK.

The nightmare for farming is potentially exiting the EU single market and finding that there is no ‘UK single market’. It is essential that this scenario is avoided at all costs. 

The questions here are fundamental and the implications for the UK as a whole, or as a group of nations, should not be downplayed. But ultimately, farmers are practical people and we expect our leaders to seek practical solutions. Let’s hope that at some point the positioning will subside and pragmatism will emerge.

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