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MPs call for funding for farming after Brexit to be ring-fenced

When the UK leaves the European Union, it will also quit the EU's Common Agricultural Policy which governs policy and pays subsidies to farmers
By Emily Beament, Press Association Environment Correspondent

Funding for farming after Brexit should be ring-fenced to support the rural economy and environment, MPs have urged.

When the UK leaves the European Union, it will also quit the EU's Common Agricultural Policy which governs policy and pays subsidies to farmers worth £3 billion a year in the UK, mostly based on the amount of land they have.

The British government has proposed new measures which will focus payments on providing "public goods" such as creating wildlife habitat, protecting cherished landscapes, reducing flooding and improving air quality.

But there is an "absence of detail" in the proposals which have been put out to consultation, the parliamentary Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Efra) Committee has warned.

MPs on the committee have called for a government commitment to fully funding a new agricultural policy using ring-fenced funds released by the end of "direct payments" under the CAP.

In a report on the future for food, farming and the environment, the Efra committee called for clarity on funding, timing and delivery of the future agricultural policy, without which the government's ambitions will not be met.

Around 42 per cent of farmers are not profitable without their direct payments, and particular sectors such as sheep farming and smaller farms are likely to be more affected by the end of subsidies.

So there is a need for the government to produce a thorough assessment of the impacts of removing them, the MPs said, to help target support where it will be needed most.

And measures such as tax breaks to help farmers invest in new technology should be investigated as part of efforts to boost productivity on farms.

There is broad support for including animal health and welfare in the "public goods" that could receive public money, the MPs said.

The Environment Department (Defra) should commit to exploring how that could be achieved through trials during the transition period for moving farming to the new system, they urged.

The report also warned that an independent inspection regime to check public money is being legitimately spent under the new scheme must be properly funded.

And moves towards self-regulation and potential deregulation after Brexit must not allow a "race to the bottom" on standards.

Environmental and animal welfare standards must also be maintained on products entering the UK after the country quits the EU, and the government must ensure future trade agreements prevent any that do not from coming in.

Neil Parish, chairman of the committee, said: "A new funding model for agriculture is essential for the future prosperity of UK farming.

"As we leave the EU we must ensure that we maintain our standards, and that those importing into the UK meet our high standards of production.

"The government should commit to funding the future agricultural policy using ring-fenced funds, consider new support mechanisms such as tax breaks and capital grant support, ensure that trade agreements demand that imported products meet our standards, and avoid a regulatory race to the bottom."

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