Uncertainty to dominate the 2017 farming agenda
THE First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, has recently set out her proposals for Scotland’s future relations with Europe after Brexit.
The document lays out the case for the UK, as a whole, to remain within the European single market (ESM) and within the EU Customs Union.
Should the rest of the UK not want to be in the ESM and the EU Customs Union, then differentiated arrangements must be negotiated by the UK with Europe to allow Scotland to remain in the ESM and the EU Customs Union.
Everything about Brexit is complicated and these proposals, in the Scottish Government’s own words, are technically and politically challenging. They will require flexibility, pragmatism and support on the part of the UK government and, in due course, our European partners.
Already many commentators are saying that what the Scottish Government is proposing is undeliverable.
But Brexit means we are in unprecedented times. There is no parallel to the negotiations that will take place over the next couple of years between the UK and Europe.
At the opposite end of the spectrum to Scottish Government’s wishlist is for the UK to leave the ESM and the EU Customs Union altogether and develop new trading relationships with countries around the world. The terms ‘technically and politically challenging’ could equally apply to such talks.
So, what does all this mean for Scottish agriculture and Scotland’s farmers and crofters?
Firstly, if the UK stays in the ESM and the EU Customs Union, then the UK won’t be able to negotiate its own trade deals with other parts of the world. Whether this is good or bad depends upon your view on the capability of the UK to negotiate these deals and whether these deals would be better than anything that can be negotiated by the EU.
Secondly, if (and it is a big if) the UK was willing and able to negotiate differentiated arrangements for Scotland with the EU, what would be the practical implications? How would goods moved through the UK and then on into Europe be dealt with? Would the administrative arrangements needed in the UK to accommodate such an arrangement be simple and easy or would they be so cumbersome and burdensome that they would negate the differentiated arrangements negotiated for Scotland with the EU?
And, thirdly, there is now a clear battle going on with regard to agricultural policy and where the power to make decisions should reside.
On one side is the Scottish Government saying that those powers to do with agricultural policy that will be ‘repatriated’ to the UK from Brussels must be the responsibility of the Scottish Parliament.
On the other side is the UK government, which has designs on having a single UK agricultural policy with regional flexibility.
The big question is what will this mean for the Scottish sector and, of course, what money will go along with these powers?
At the end of the day, funding will be critical. Powers without an appropriate level of funding offers little benefit. Of course, a UK agricultural policy with money but not the flexibility that we require to support productive agriculture in Scotland would also be useless. So, have we got any more clarity from the First Minister’s announcement? The answer is not yet. What we do have is an interesting set of proposals that need to be carefully considered and their ramifications thought through.
Our AGM in February 2017 will offer the perfect opportunity to discuss these issues with our members and to gauge their views and opinions. In the meantime, there is a lot for our board of directors to mull over and much to be discussed with the UK and Scottish Governments in the weeks ahead.
NFUS chief executive Scott Walker says there are challenging times ahead.