When thinking on life post-Brexit, Jonnie Hall’s crystal ball is less cloudy than most when it comes to seeing through the political mist.
He is, after all, the policy director of NFU Scotland and, in his latest blog, he gives a few pointers to the future.
Chief among these is that, while the UK might be free from EU regulations, the country would not have a blank canvas on which to stitch a whole new set of agricultural policies.
“An obvious influence will be the 1994 World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Agriculture,” said Hall. “This placed all farm support measures into so-called ‘boxes’ of differing colours.”
Under that agreement all farm policies are categorised into three boxes. Those in the Green box have no, or at most minimal, trade distorting effects or effects on production.
Those in the Blue box include measures that provide direct payments under schemes which limit the level of production. In Scotland’s case, this would include the coupled support schemes for beef calves and hill ewe hoggs.
In the Amber box are all other agricultural support payments with the amount of support provided being limited and with reductions required from historic levels.
All the current Pillar 1 spending in England, Wales and Northern Ireland lies in the Green box. Scottish support is mostly Green apart from the two coupled schemes mentioned already.
Hall feels that while it is impossible to second guess how the EU’s obligations in the WTO will be translated to the UK when it leaves Europe, it would be a safe assumption that the UK will not be able to introduce measures deemed to be trade distorting.
The over-arching responsibilities linked to the WTO might seem to rule out a future with coupled support but this might not be material if the UK and its devolved administrations constructed a domestic agricultural policy that would be more adapted to home needs and which reflected the inherent farming systems of the British Isles.
Another option for the future could be the UK and Scotland continue with a simplified and decoupled direct payments system outside the EU. This would provide a degree of continuity but Hall warns it might offer a road for government to phase out direct Pillar 1 type support in favour of more competitive rural development type funding currently associated with Pillar 2 and the Scottish Rural Development Programme.
At this point, Hall’s crystal ball clouds over: “There will be many possible UK and Scottish agricultural policy options. These will undoubtedly be influenced by budgetary pressures and public spending decisions. Equally, there are other international obligations that limit our ability to do as we please or as we used to.”
However, he adds: “The UK will remain a member state of the European Union until it is not! Until such times as Brexit is complete, farm support will still be governed by the current common agricultural policy, and all that goes with it by way of budgets, compliance, inspections and all.”