Why it takes 2 to Tango

FUW MATTERS

by Alan Davies, FUW managing director

THE old saying of “it takes two to Tango” is well known but I couldn’t help but be reminded of it in recent weeks when I saw some of the political shenanigans around Brexit. Ever since the referendum last year, we’ve been saying publicly that we need the UK Government and the Welsh Government to work together to develop a solution for agriculture in a post EU Britain, and I know that the message has struck a chord with the Welsh Government in particular. We also know that the the UK Government has said that there will be efforts made to engage with the devolved administrations of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It was therefore disappointing to hear that the Secretary of State, Andrea Leadsom had not met with her counterpart in Cardiff until very recently and perhaps of greater disappointment was the cancellation ‐ at very short notice ‐ of George Eustice’s appearance to give evidence to the Welsh Assembly Climate Change, Environment and Rural Affairs committee. Both these are frustrating, and if they are symbolic rather than unfortunate then they don’t bode well for the future. As Brexit inches ever closer, and the formal start of the exit process should begin this month, it is vital that Governments work together, otherwise there can only be a solution that is developed by the UK government, and that will likely have an England‐centric solution that could fail to recognise the unique needs of Wales. We’ve called for a “UK Framework for Agriculture”, a sort of “UK common agriculture policy”, that will both enable and constrain devolved nations in a way that generates a good healthy UK market, whilst preventing practices that will destabilise that market. Without such a framework we cannot hope to have a stable home market. But I perceive a problem: as powers over agriculture are repatriated to the UK from Brussels, there is an ambition amongst some politicians to keep some of those powers in London, even if the powers are already devolved. Of course this goes against what the Prime Minister has been saying, in that there will be “no landgrab of powers”. But I fear that the ambition is there. There is also the significant constitutional issue ‐ unless Acts are changed such moves could presumably be challenged in court ‐ as happened when the Agricultural Wages Board was abolished. From a Welsh perspective this makes little sense. Agriculture is a devolved responsibility and the First Minister has made it quite clear that he expects no change to that arrangement. The fly in the ointment of course is money. The Welsh Government currently distributes EU money to farmers but does not have its own budget to support agriculture and the responsibility for stumping up the cash will go to the UK Treasury. And that is where there could be a level of control introduced that might be disruptive to devolution. If political battles over devolution ‐ or in Scotland, independence ‐ are allowed to cloud adult discussions over some kind of UK framework, agriculture could become the main casualty in the crossfire. Some complex political battles need to be worked out and until they are resolved it is hard to see a way forward to create a plan for post Brexit. Put simply ‐ we need to know who is in charge and in control of the money before working on the long term plan. We are currently arguing for a solution where the Welsh Government is clearly in charge, but financial controls are managed within strict (UK framework) rules that have been agreed between devolved regions, not imposed on them. And of course that is all ahead of the question of sorting out regulations ‐ over 5,000 pertinent to agriculture ‐ that will be returned to UK, probably as part of a Great Repeal Bill. Some of those items will need to become Welsh law, but how, or when is another big political challenge that needs to be resolved. And soon. And through negotiation. And in the meanwhile it’s probably fair to say: don’t expect a bonfire of regulation. We need our politicians to dance together to get the right solutions. It takes 2 to Tango.

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