by Glyn Roberts, FUW President
WhEn Theresa May drew her red lines and started the Brexit countdown by sending her Article 50 letter, the FUW warned that both moves would reduce the UK’s negotiating capital when it came to getting an acceptable Brexit deal – after all, boasting about your inflexibility, taking options off the table and treating complex negotiations like speed dating is not a good place to start discussions with anyone.
While May has now announced her imminent departure from 10 Downing Street, the chain- reaction of events triggered by taking wrong turns at every fork and trying to placate the hard-line Brexiteers in her party continue, and the political and constitutional mess we find ourselves in is likely to grow over the coming months.
Like the Conservatives, Labour has found itself between the same rock and hard place, with the party and its supporters split between those who are tired of waiting for Brexit and seem to want it at any cost and those who want to slow matters down or reverse them.
The Prime Ministers decision to raise hopes of a quick and simple Brexit and her handling of the process, and the Labour party’s evasive policy on a second referendum were arguably the main factors which led to a collapse in votes on May 23 for the two main parties – with 35 per cent of UK voters opting for hard-line pro-Brexit parties, and 40 per cent voting for pro-EU parties, and the same pattern repeated almost exactly in Wales.
The worrying conclusion is that rather than seeing the divisions that have opened up since the EU Referendum being healed, our nations and people are now more polarised than ever.
With a Parliament that is unlikely to accept either a no- deal Brexit or the current Withdrawal Agreement; an EU which has stated that it will not renegotiate the Withdrawal Deal; and candidates jostling for the role of Prime Minister making all sorts of promises about delivering Brexit, all against the background of a the new October 31 Brexit deadline, the uncertainty is likely to grow.
Against such a background, some would argue that the last thing our industry needs is more uncertainty, whereas others might say that a distraction would be welcome.
Enter left stage the Welsh Government’s next steps in its Brexit and our Land consultation process: On June 4 the summary of the responses to last summer’s consultation was published, alongside other documents including the Welsh Government’s reaction to the consultation responses.
Then, in early July, a further consultation will be published on the future of Welsh rural payments, with the process set to close on or around the date we are due to leave the EU, some sixteen weeks later.
Around 13,000 responses were submitted to last year’s Brexit and our Land consultation, with many thousands reflecting or supporting the FUW’s concerns regarding the proposal to replace farm payments with agri-environment scheme type contracts based on delivering ‘Public Goods’.
As such, it is hoped that the Welsh Government has taken proper account of these concerns, and re-looked at its proposals against the backdrop of the changes likely to happen to farm support for our main competitors in other parts of the UK and across the EU.
While some have suggested that the next consultation will merely be a case of the Emperor’s new clothes, with the same 15 year old Defra/Treasury concept of public goods payments merely dressed up in new language designed to better charm farmers, I have been encouraged by recent discussions with our Minister and officials and would prefer to keep an open mind.
Even if we ended up remaining in the EU, under the latest Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) proposals we would have the opportunity and more flexibility than ever before to build a new kind of rural policy, and we should be aiming to deliver prosperity, jobs and sustainability through our family farms.
Countries in other parts of the EU are currently developing a range of interesting ideas to do just this under a reformed CAP, and to refuse to consider or learn from their ideas would be extremely narrow minded for a Welsh administration led by a First Minister who openly supports remaining in the EU and therefore part of the Common Agricultural