by Glyn Roberts, FUW president
After decades of being part of the Common Market, the Customs Union and the eU, it’s not surprising that the House of Commons Library describes the process of drafting new legislation to untangle us from eU law as “…potentially one of the largest legislative projects ever undertaken in the UK”. As well as the worry that completing such a task properly by April 2019 will be impossible, many are also concerned that the process will be used by opponents of devolution to steal powers away from Wales and Scotland. Agriculture is probably the area where powers have been devolved the most, particularly in terms of implementing the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the fact that Wales, england, Scotland and Northern Ireland all have very different systems, all of which comply with an overarching set of principles, highlights how a framework should work. those concerned about a Westminster power-grab rightly worry that a single UK policy will be drawn up and run from London, without any consultation with devolved administrations, and this has been well covered in the press. But a concern which has received much attention is that some politicians and civil servants in Wales and Scotland want a set of rules which are so flexible that they massively increase the powers of the devolved regions, and therefore equate to a power-grab by the devolved administrations away from Westminster. During the negotiations over the current CAP rules, the fUW argued that they were introducing too much flexibility for eU Member States and regions. Ironically, Wales was at the forefront when it came to demonstrating the dangers of such flexibility: Having had the lowest level of modulation – a sort of tax placed on farm payments – in the UK for six years, flexibility introduced under the new CAP rules, coupled with a U-turn in Welsh policy, led to the rate being increased to 15 per cent in 2014 – the highest in the eU. At the time most Member States had opted for zero per cent, and Wales still remains at the highest rate in europe. the distortion such flexibility can cause within a system which is supposed to minimise unfair competition within a common market is obvious, so the prospect of a future framework with even more flexibility is just as concerning as a Westminster power-grab. In fact, it’s not just concerning – it is terrifying: imagine a world in which Wales can decide to abandon all farm support and focus on nothing but clean beaches and flood management, while Scotland decides to pay large subsidies for sheep and beef production, and england invests everything it’s got in pig and dairy processing – while all our produce continues to be sold side-by-side in the supermarkets and elsewhere. the market distortions and unfair competition would be catastrophic, while exports from certain areas, or even the whole of the UK, could be banned under WtO rules. It is for this reason that the fUW, for the past year, has argued for work to begin on developing a UK framework which respects the current balance of powers between devolved countries and is both rigid and flexible in the appropriate places. And with this in mind, we last month called for a ministerial summit to be held in order for all UK Governments to reach agreement over a way forward – something which is only possible if moves to use Brexit as a means by which to gain more powers are abandoned.