Country life in Scotland under threat: EU official
Claim people ‘essentially being kept on the land’ by European subsidies
Rural life in Scotland faces devastation if farming subsidies in the UK are slashed after Brexit, an EU official has warned.
Smaller payments could see farmers stop food production and force them to abandon their land, according to the European Commission spokesman, raising fears of rural depopulation.
One MSP has warned reduced payments “spell disaster” for those living outside towns and cities.
The EU official said agriculture is “keeping people in the rural countryside” in Scotland and farmers are “essentially being kept on the land by those subsidies”.
“If those stop you have to ask yourself what is the incentive for people to stay on the land,” he told journalists in Brussels.
“What is the incentive for them to continue to sustainably manage the land?
“And if they don’t, what are the environmental consequences of what would seem on the face of it essentially to result in land abandonment.”
The official said this will accelerate rural depopulation and stop making those communities viable.
He added: “The reality is all of our territories are becoming increasingly urbanised. People are moving into towns and we need to sustain rural communities. I’m not saying farmers are the backbone of rural communities but a lot of rural communities revolve around small agri-food businesses.
“To keep people in the rural countryside you have to keep the services. So the school stays, the pharmacy stays, the local stays.”
The UK is to operate its own subsidy system from 2021 after leaving the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, which delivers £3 billion a year to domestic farmers.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said the new system will reward farmers who protect the environment.
Mike Rumbles, the North East MSP for the Lib Dems, said: “Brexit absolutely must not be allowed to take a scythe to our rural regions.”
A Defra spokesperson said: “The UK Government has committed the same cash total for farm support in all parts of the UK until 2022.
“This provides more certainty than any other EU member state.”
“Agriculture is a devolved issue so it is rightly up to the Scottish Government to determine how its farmers will be supported, taking into account their own geographical and environmental circumstances.” See comment on page 28
Scottish Secretary David Mundell and Environment Secretary Michael Gove at the Royal Highland Show. Mr Gove says farmers who protect the environment will be rewarded.