In the course of my work in the East Midlands, I meet quite a lot of farmers, and I find that generally speaking they tend to support UKIP’s broad objectives. They, like the rest of us, think we’d be better off governing ourselves as an independent country. But they have one big hang-up. Their payments from the Common Agricultural policy (CAP) are a vital part of their income. If we leave the EU, how will they manage without it? Yes, they’re frustrated by the bureaucracy and the box-ticking and the cross-compliance, but they need the money.
Of course UKIP understands this. Our Agriculture spokesman is Eastern Region MEP Stuart Agnew (Aggers to his friends), who has been a working farmer all his adult life, and is a member of the NFU. Stuart is currently putting the finishing touches to a UKIP agriculture policy ahead of elections in 2014 and 2015, but I can already tell you that he and his team are fully aware that agricultural support is a central plank in the farm policy of all major, developed countries including the United States, Japan, and Europe. Clearly, therefore, British agriculture also needs similar support to compete. UKIP wants to strip out the excessive red-tape and compliance costs whilst retaining the direct support that the active British farmer needs. We also want to remove those bureaucratic rules that are damaging our agricultural competitiveness.
How will we afford it? EU funds don’t arrive out of nowhere. We pay for them. At the moment, every pound that the UK gets back from Brussels costs our economy several pounds. Simply by saving our direct EU budget contributions we should have more than enough to fund current levels of support. When we start to strip out EU regulatory costs across the rest of the UK economy, we shall be a much more prosperous country, and able to afford what we want to do, not what Brussels tells us.
We certainly can’t do that now, while we’re in the EU. The British political class is still in denial, but since the Treaty of Lisbon, they simply have NO power in key policy areas like agriculture. Post-Lisbon (if not before), as Owen Paterson discovered over the horsemeat scandal — rather I think to his horror — DEFRA is reduced to little more than the EU’s compliance Agency in London.
At best Britain’s agriculture minister is reduced to just one of 28 voices on just one side of a three-sided table, the other two sides being occupied by Parliament’s representatives and, out on his own with sole power of proposing regulation, the Commissioner, Dacian Ciolos. So British agriculture is currently run largely by an unelected Romanian official, the French-educated Agriculture Commissioner Mr Ciolos (I understand that his only experience of agriculture was on an organic farm).
He has driven through the current CAP reform.
The outcome and therefore the prospects for our farmers is to do more for less support — but with the ‘more’ consisting not of growing more food, but spending more time on compliance and red tape.
Built upon flawed ‘Green’ theories, this so-called CAP reform is an insult to the very idea of reform and a step in the wrong direction for British agriculture and the British people.
Only Stuart Agnew and his UKIP colleagues in the Agriculture Committee have consistently argued — and voted — against this nonsense. It is only by voting for UKIP that British farmers can express their dissatisfaction with a policy which is bad for farming, and bad for Britain. Sadly, all the other British parties, including the Conservatives, collude in the institutionalised, pan-EU consensus-building process which ensures Britain’s voice is scarcely heard.
There are many reasons to call for British self-government and independence. There will be huge economic benefits, a vast increase in democratic accountability. But there will also be real advantages for agriculture. Farmers who believe in Britain (and I suspect that’s most farmers) can vote UKIP with confidence.