Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Brexit debates begin

Parliament has risen for the summer and the silly season is upon us. That is the only explanation I can give to the extraordinary hissing and screaming about the resignation honours' list. Prime Minister names his friends and allies in his last honours list - shock! There are no objective criteria for political honours so whoever is on the list there will be a great deal of hissing and screaming. The only way to solve the problem is to abolish the whole system of honours. Would the hacks and others who are getting all worked up at the moment agree with that? I doubt it. For one thing every hack nurtures a largely unrealistic hope of being on that list one day. (Incidentally, and completely off the subject, something similar is the only solution to the drug problem in the Olympics - call an end to that farce.)

Meanwhile, in another corner of the hippy-hoppy fields just outside the village of Loose Chipping dwindling bands of Remainers are still munching away on the hippy-hoppy grass and calling with decreasing assurance for a second referendum, for a way to stop the Brexit process and for a way to punish the revolting peasants, if needs be by destroying the economy (unlikely to happen but if your are a Remainer Munchkin you can go on hoping). They are also wailing about the misleading information that had come from the Leave campaign and are strangely coy about more than misleading information from the Remain campaign. I assume this will just go on and on and on until the last Remainer Munchkin gets bored.

Elsewhere, people are beginning to discuss what should be discussed in those negotiations. There will be many issues and some of them are going to be quite difficult though not necessarily as difficult as they are made out at the moment.

The House of Lords European Union Committee, source of some excellent (and some not so good) reports has produced its Third Report of the 2016 - 17 Session in which it enumerated its activity of the previous, 2015 - 16 one. Worth glancing through, in my opinion and the various publications can be read for free on line. In the Summary there is a brief outline of the work of the Committee and how it is likely to change over the coming months.
The European Union Committee of the House of Lords scrutinises the UK Government’s policies and actions in respect of the EU; considers and seeks to influence the development of policies and draft laws proposed by the EU institutions; and represents the House of Lords in its dealings with the EU institutions and other Member States.

Following the decision of UK citizens to vote to leave the EU at the 23 June 2016 referendum, the focus of the Committee’s work will shift in the coming months, from scrutiny of EU documents to examination of the Government’s objectives in achieving the UK’s withdrawal from the EU and in building a new and lasting relationship.
Given that all through those negotiations we shall still be members of the European Union, I hope the committee and the various sub-committees will not abandon completely the scrutiny of EU documents.

The House of Lords debate about post-Brexit agriculture, problems and possibilities is not very long and is well worth reading. Britain's food production is a thriving industry and the chances of not having any markets inside and outside the country are slim (though there were odd problems with the EU or its member states banning such things as British beef long after FMD had been dealt with, though no thanks to DEFRA). Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment and Rural Affairs gave some figures in his reply:
Some 70% of UK land is agricultural. We have a world-class food and farming industry that generates over £100 billion a year for our economy.

Our Great British Food Unit is promoting great British produce at home and abroad, boosting the £18 billion in food and drink that we sold across the world in 2015, and cementing Britain’s reputation as a global food nation. From Welsh lamb and Northern Irish beef to Scotch whisky and English wines—I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, will not mind me saying that I do not think any of us would consider those to be niche—we should be proud of the UK industry’s world renown for the quality of its produce and its high standards of animal welfare. I am very conscious of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said about the importance of high standards and, indeed, what was said about procurement.

We know that there is great global demand for quality British dairy products. For example, the Wensleydale Creamery now exports Yorkshire Wensleydale cheese around the world, which accounts for 14% of its business. I was delighted that my noble friend Lady McIntosh also referred to her favourite Yorkshire cheese. The UK dairy industry exported to 138 countries last year, totalling £1.2 billion. Dairy exports to China have increased by more than three-quarters in value compared with 2014.
Several things bothered noble peers: access to the Single Market after Brexit, the presence of casual workers on whom farmers and food producers rely and, above all, subsidies or, as Lord Gardiner put it, support. Well, what's in a name?

The assumption is that there will be less in the kitty by way of subsidy or support for the farmers than they were getting from the EU but is that necessarily a bad thing? Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer led the debate for the Lib-Dems and, after listing the various problems that might hit agriculture after Brexit she said:
However, it is not all doom and gloom. There could be a new settlement for farmers and for our environment. It will require a total redesign of both the legislation around the environment—80% of it has come from the EU, and it has helped to preserve much of the fabric of rural Britain to date—and a new rural settlement with farmers. Quite rightly, the British taxpaying public will expect to see much more for their money. Gone will be the days of subsidies based on landholding size, no matter how few public benefits that land produces or, worse, how many long-term costs occur—for example, in soil degradation, biodiversity loss or water pollution.

Given what a relatively small and densely populated island we are, we really cannot afford to separate agriculture from wildlife and landscape. That is the first real challenge to Defra in considering what strategies it should be employing for a post-Brexit scenario. So far it has produced separate strategies for food, farming and biodiversity. That is not going to be acceptable; it is going to have to produce a whole rural Britain strategy.

The CAP did a lot of good in enabling family farms to survive. That will be another big challenge for Defra: to ensure that the sort of incentives it produces in future will encourage young entrants into farming and enable them to access the finance in order to share some of the machinery and capital investments necessary, particularly for some of those smaller family farms. We cannot expect farmers to manage, say, footpaths, dry stone walls and hedges for nothing. The public enjoy the benefits of the countryside and they will want to continue, so we must pay our land managers—the farmers—properly for that.
This blog will do its best to follow as many of the forthcoming debates as possible.

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