Fergus Ewing repeats warning over ticking Brexit clock

Agriculture ministers from the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will meet tomorrow in Edinburgh to discuss post-Brexit agricultural strategy, it has been confirmed.
Fergus Ewing will meet fellow agriculture ministers in Edinburgh tomorrow. Picture: John DevlinFergus Ewing will meet fellow agriculture ministers in Edinburgh tomorrow. Picture: John Devlin
Fergus Ewing will meet fellow agriculture ministers in Edinburgh tomorrow. Picture: John Devlin

Speaking in Perth, rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said that he was set to meet Andrea Leadsom, the UK’s secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs and ministers from the other devolved administrations to discuss measures to continue farm strategy and support measures outside the common agricultural policy (CAP).

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Little betwixt us and agricultural Armageddon

Speaking to arable growers at Scottish Agronomy’s annual conference, Ewing said that the clock was ticking and that it was time proposals were drawn up to give the industry time to plan for the future.

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“If Brexit goes ahead as the UK government is proposing, it is now only two years before we will be outside the CAP,” he said.

“I know that many farmers have to plan investment in their businesses and their crop rotations and planting plans far further ahead than this – so there is no time to waste.”

Stating that he was going into the meeting with an optimistic mindset, Ewing said that it was crucial that the devolved administrations held on to their current powers to set strategies which were specifically tailored to their own country – and that they also got a firm commitment that the funds would be available from the UK Treasury to allow them to continue to do so.

“And once we get clarity on this issue we can settle down to drawing up firm plans,” said Ewing, who indicated that while moves were being drawn up to pull a Scottish policy together, these could not be completed without a firm idea of funding.

However, he also said that Scotland hoped to retain closer links with the EU through a deal which would allow it to retain membership of the European Economic Area.

“This would allow us to retain access to the labour market which is so important for the food and farming sectors.”

He said that for sound practical reasons it also made sense to avoid the problems of tariffs and border inspections which would hinder the country’s growing food and farm produce export market.

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Asked if the Scottish Government would allow Scottish farmers to benefit from the agronomic benefits and additional resilience offered by new breeding techniques such as gene editing, Ewing took a slightly less hard-line, anti-GM attitude than he had in the past.

He said he recognised the importance of science being put into practice and, adding that the work at research institutes such as the James Hutton was world-leading, he said that such measures represented “a strand which could be an ingredient in future policy”.

Payments ‘in next few weeks’

Scottish farmers and crofters could be set to receive the balance of their 2016 support payments over the next few weeks, Ewing revealed yesterday.

While he avoided being pinned down to an actual date, he said that they could be expected “quite soon” and indicated that a further statement could be expected early next week.