The UK department of the environment, foor and rural affairs (Defra) still has no plans for what would happen to British agriculture if the country pulled out of the European Union, Secretary of State Liz Truss admitted yesterday.
Truss said that her department was not working on proposals for how UK farmers would be supported outside the EU ahead of a referendum on the country’s membership.
Speaking to press at the Oxford Farming Conference, Truss said Defra had not allocated any of its staff to investigate how a Brexit would affect UK food and farming, or whether an alternative to the direct payment system would be introduced.
“We have teams working on animal health and on flooding, but we don’t have a team in Defra working on a plan B for the CAP,” Truss told journalists.
The minister was pushed for detail on the Defra’s plans after she attempted to dodge a question from UKIP MEP Stewart Agnew in the main conference on how Defra planned to support farmers in the face of a Brexit.
Truss told the conference that the government was working to renegotiate the country’s position in Europe but people would “have to see what we get”.
“There are big benefits of being a member of the EU in terms of access to markets, but there are also costs in terms of bureaucracy of administration and complexity of the CAP,” she said. “It’s for everyone to weigh up.”
Labour’s shadow farm minister Kerry McCarthy said it was concerning that Defra was not working on an alternative option to present to farmers and the public ahead of a vote.
In her first appearance at the conference, McCarthy said the campaign to remain in Europe was too focused on jobs and investment.
“It’s not talking about farming, food production or environmental issues. It has a very narrow focus,” she said.
“We need to look at the Defra side of it far more, and there ought to be a team in the department looking at it.”
McCarthy said it was unlikely that money currently paid into the EU’s agriculture budget would be allocated to UK farmers if the country pulled out of the union.
“If we are going to be able to make an informed decision then work on that has to be done,” she said.
The debate over Europe was one of a number of issues the politicians clashed on, including how subsidy payments were being made in England and the effectiveness of the badger cull in tackling tackle bovine TB.
McCarthy, who told the audience that her vegan lifestyle meant she could still fairly represent livestock farmers, said she did not support a badger cull because science had not proved that it was effective.
She said she was willing to support policies which were supported by science, stating she was open-minded on GM: “We need to be guided by the science on gene technology or gene editing just as on anything else”.