Help NFUS to shape post Brexit agriculture pol­icy

The Oban Times - - Farming -

One year on from Theresa May tak­ing up res­i­dence in Down­ing Street and as the UK gov­ern­ment’s flag­ship Euro­pean Union (With­drawal) Bill was in­tro­duced to the Com­mons, NFUS par­lia­men­tary of­fi­cer CLARE SLIPPER takes stock. THERESA May’s ap­point­ment as Prime Min­is­ter fol­lowed a short but sharp race which con­signed her lead­er­ship op­po­nents, Boris John­son and Michael Gove, to the po­lit­i­cal sin bin.

Stand­ing on the steps of Down­ing Street, the newly-ap­pointed PM vowed to al­ways work in the in­ter­ests of fam­i­lies who were ‘just about man­ag­ing’ and said she would rise to the ‘great na­tional chal­lenge’ of the EU ref­er­en­dum out­come.

A year later and both John­son and Gove have risen from the ashes, be­ing ap­pointed as For­eign Sec­re­tary and De­fra Sec­re­tary re­spec­tively. But they sit within a gov­ern­ment that has been cut down to size fol­low­ing a sur­prise elec­tion cam­paign which many now con­sider to be sim­ply seven weeks of precious Brexit ne­go­ti­at­ing time that we will never get back.

Clearly, the UK is not out of the post-ref­er­en­dum po­lit­i­cal quag­mire yet.

The UK gov­ern­ment’s flag­ship Euro­pean Union (With­drawal) Bill has been in­tro­duced to par­lia­ment – a ti­tle slightly less grandiose than its for­mer ti­tle of the ‘Great Re­peal Bill’. It will re­ceive its first read­ing – a for­mal­ity, which does not in­clude a de­bate, and sim­ply in­volves the short ti­tle of the bill is be­ing read out fol­lowed by an or­der for the bill to be printed (and made avail­able on­line).

The bill will re­peal the Euro­pean Com­mu­ni­ties Act 1972, which took Bri­tain into the EU and re­move the supremacy of Brussels law. Es­sen­tially, it will cut all EU rules, reg­u­la­tions and frame­works and paste them into UK and Scots law to en­sure that the wheels don’t come off on day one of EU exit in April 2019. It is a tech­ni­cal and pro­ce­dural bill, and will en­able the in­tro­duc­tion of fu­ture pol­icy bills on agriculture, im­mi­gra­tion, trade, cus­toms and fish­eries which will come next year.

Tech­ni­cal and pro­ce­dural though it is, the EU ( With­drawal) Bill is one of the big­gest pieces of leg­is­la­tion ever to go through the UK par­lia­ment. To say that the po­lit­i­cal par­ties are gear­ing up for a ma­jor fight is an un­der­state­ment.

Labour’s Shadow Brexit Sec­re­tary Keir Starmer has said to­day that ‘ Labour is putting the gov­ern­ment on no­tice’ and will vote against the bill un­less the gov­ern­ment changes its ap­proach on a wide range of is­sues run­ning from work­ers’ rights to par­lia­men­tary scru­tiny.

The SNP has also threat­ened to vote against the bill un­less Scot­land is of­fered a raft of new pow­ers – in­clud­ing, notably, full de­vo­lu­tion of all pow­ers for any fu­ture agri­cul­tural and ru­ral pol­icy.

And this is be­fore the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment is even asked to grant a leg­isla­tive con­sent mo­tion for the bill to leg­is­late in cer­tain ar­eas of de­volved com­pe­tence, which will no doubt cre­ate a fire-fight between the SNP gov­ern­ment in Scot­land and the UK gov­ern­ment.

The Lib Dems have sim­ply said that the bill will be ‘hell’.

Op­po­si­tion sup­port or not, the bill will pass if the DUP’s 10 MPs vote with the Con­ser­va­tive benches. How­ever, the Prime Min­is­ter will need to ap­ply a hard whip to her MPs, with dis­sent­ing voices from the left and right of the Con­ser­va­tive party also mur­mur­ing dis­ap­proval at the gov­ern­ment’s Brexit ap­proach.

What does all of this sug­gest about the re­formist zeal and con­cil­ia­tory po­lit­i­cal tone which the Prime Min­is­ter es­poused when she stood on the steps of Down­ing Street on July 13, 2016?

The in­ter­est­ing part lies in the na­ture in which the bill has been in­tro­duced. The next stage of the par­lia­men­tary process is the sec­ond read­ing, where the bill re­ceives a full de­bate over sev­eral days on the gen­eral prin­ci­ples.

With the House of Com­mons break­ing for the long sum­mer re­cess, one week from to­day, it is un­der­stood that the sec­ond read­ing – which is es­sen­tially the first op­por­tu­nity for MPs to ta­ble amend­ments and ques­tion the gov­ern­ment on the prin­ci­ples of the bill – won’t take place un­til late Septem­ber or early Oc­to­ber.

Com­men­ta­tors are sug­gest­ing the rea­son for the de­lay is due to the gov­ern­ment’s nerves that op­po­si­tion MPs will treat the draft leg­is­la­tion as ‘Christ­mas tree leg­is­la­tion’, where they string it up in amend­ments and com­pli­cate the leg­isla­tive process.

Between now and then, NFUS will push hard to en­sure that the in­ter­ests of Scot­tish agriculture are taken into ac­count in any plans for fu­ture reg­u­la­tory sys­tems.

Let’s hope that we are out of the quag­mire and see­ing much more clar­ity on the road ahead by Christ­mas.

Re­mem­ber, NFU Scot­land is ask­ing for your views on how the union can shape post-Brexit agri­cul­tural pol­icy. Read our dis­cus­sion doc­u­ment, Change – A New Agri­cul­tural Pol­icy for Scot­land Post-Brexit, and get in touch at Brexit@nfus.org.uk.

Clare Slipper.

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