Future Stormont minister 'will decide on farm subsidies after Brexit'

Environment secretary Michael Gove has said English farmers can expect five years of subsidies after the UK leaves the EU. File picture by Ann McManus

A FUTURE devolved minister will decide subsidies for farmers in the north after Brexit, the agriculture department has said.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said English farmers could expect present subsidies until 2024.

After that date, the subsidies will be based on rewarding farmers for "public goods" including biodiversity and water quality, rather than one based on farm size.

A spokesman for the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs said any decision on payments for the north's farms after the current subsidies ended "would be a matter for a minister".

Ulster Farmers' Union president Barclay Bell welcomed Mr Gove's comments.

"By producing food and looking after the countryside, farmers deliver jobs and environmental benefits for society – and the government has given this welcome recognition,” he said.

However, Sinn Féin MP Michelle Gildernew said the British government will not protect farmers.

"The Tory-DUP Brexit pact are committed only to dragging the north out of the EU, leaving rural farmers without almost 90% of their funding, and potentially devastating the agri-food industry," she said.

"The only Tory solution thus far has been the pursuit of free trade deals which threaten to undermine food quality, safety standards and industry practices.

"Designated Special Status for the north within the EU is the only means by which we can protect local farmers and our rural communities."

DUP MEP Diane Dodds said while Mr Gove referred to changes in England "Northern Ireland civil servants will require direction as to how they would implement agriculture policy going forward".

"We want Northern Ireland to have the flexibility under devolution to shape this policy area but we need a functioning Executive," she said.

"Unfortunately, due to the ongoing intransigence of Sinn Féin, local farmers are left without a local voice and the ability to take decisions."

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann said farmers in the north must get the same protection as their counterparts in England.

"This is something I fear the ongoing absence of a minister or local Executive will likely delay however," he said.

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