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Brexit (Farming)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 31st May 2018.

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Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

4. To ask the Scottish Government what assessment it has made of the impact on farming of Brexit. (S5O-02150)

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Numerous studies confirm the Scottish Government’s position that Brexit is a major threat to farming in Scotland. Those include one from the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute, which is funded jointly by the United Kingdom Government and the devolved Administrations, Scotland’s Rural College, Quality Meat Scotland and the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board. All the studies show that the failure to replicate the current trade arrangements with the European Union will mean that Brexit will have a detrimental impact on farmers, and sheep farmers in particular. Farm incomes could be seriously affected due to Scotland’s ability to export being reduced and the possibility of a reduced budget from the UK Government for farm support. In addition, businesses are already reporting problems with workforce availability.

Photo of Colin Beattie Colin Beattie Scottish National Party

Can the cabinet secretary update Parliament on what progress has been made on the review of convergence funding, which was promised by the UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, last year?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Mr Gove promised that there would be a review. Incidentally, that promise was made originally about five years ago by Owen Paterson, who was then in the UK Government, but that promise has since been broken by successive ministers. Eventually, last November, Mr Gove decided that the UK Government would get round to implementing the pledge, and it promised to have the review—indeed, a Tory MP claimed credit for it.

Since then, Mr Gove has said that such matters rest with the Treasury.

When I met Mr Gove with Ms Cunningham a few weeks ago, I explained to him that the matter is very serious. The EU intended the money to go to Scottish farmers, and Scottish farmers alone, because only Scottish farmers qualified for the particular convergence funding. Therefore, my recommendation to Mr Gove is that he implement his promise without further delay, that he persuade the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Hammond, to bring the matter up to the top of his in-tray and that we get on with the review, which was promised many years ago and has still not been implemented by the UK Government.

Photo of Colin Smyth Colin Smyth Labour

I very much share the cabinet secretary’s frustration over the lack of progress with the review. Does he agree that one of the frustrations for Scotland’s farmers is what they perceive as the lack of detail from the Scottish Government on its vision for the future of agricultural support post-Brexit? Organisations such as NFU Scotland and Scottish Environment LINK are leading the way, exploring alternatives to the common agricultural policy and setting out clear principles behind what that support should look like. Can the cabinet secretary say when he will do the same and set out clearly the Scottish Government’s vision and views on what post-Brexit support should look like in Scotland?

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

I do not accept that, and the reasons for that are twofold. First, at meetings with Mr Gove and Mr Eustice, we have repeatedly sought clarity about precisely what the powers of the Parliament will be. We have no absolute clarity on that. Secondly, we have asked for clarity on funding post-Brexit, and we know nothing about that. Can any member tell me any business plan—I have been in business—that has no figures in it? It is ludicrous to suggest that anybody could come up with a detailed plan as long as the UK Government completely fail to obtemper the promises that were made during the Brexit referendum campaign, during which it was said that the funding would be at least matched. No wonder people voted for Brexit when they were told that there would be the possibility of getting more money. Now, we know nothing whatsoever.

There is a second reason why I disagree with Mr Smyth. We expect a report from the agricultural champions on the future of agriculture. In addition, the National Council of Rural Advisers will, very shortly, publish a consultation document, with its final report to come in September. Incidentally, that council was set up directly in response to Parliament’s wishes. We are doing exactly as this Parliament has requested.

Photo of John Scott John Scott Conservative

Notwithstanding the cabinet secretary’s answer to Mr Smyth, will he tell Parliament when the Scottish Government will outline its plans for the future support of agriculture and what his priorities might be in that regard. The cabinet secretary did not answer the previous question.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

As soon as the UK Government says what the funding will be, it will be possible to produce a plan. I used to run a business. We had figures of estimated income and expenditure. There are no post-Brexit figures at all from the UK Government, yet you guys and your party promised that the people would be better off.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Speak through the chair, please, Mr Ewing.

Photo of Fergus Ewing Fergus Ewing Scottish National Party

Those guys over there, Presiding Officer.

We shall shortly see the publication of the agricultural champions’ proposals. Those four champions are independent experts. Instead of Opposition members carping and making political points, they would be well advised to study carefully the champions’ recommendations.