Dr Ian Duncan is Conservative MEP for Scotland, and Chair of the ECR Policy Group on the Rural Economy
The vote to leave the European Union surprised many and the ramifications of BREXIT will be felt long past the triggering of Article 50 in March. Whilst much of the focus has been upon freedom of movement, the single market and future trading relationships, a rather large elephant in the room is the Common Agricultural Policy, or CAP. At 40 percent of the annual Budget, the CAP is the single largest component of what the EU spends money on. Farmers across the UK rely on CAP payments, but in recent years various administrations have struggled with the complexity of how to make them, and importantly, how to make them on time.
I represent Scotland, and the past two payment windows have been nothing short of a catastrophe for farmers. In 2015/16 the Scottish Government bungled the operation so badly they had to go cap in hand to the EU to avoid colossal fines. Farmers were kept in the dark for months, as the Scottish Government broke pledge after pledge to pay. At the heart of the problem was the Scottish Government’s new £200million computer system for payments. The problem? The computer system didn’t (doesn’t?) work, and officials had to resort to processing applications manually.
Eventually the Scottish Government began a system of loans, offering farmers brief respite. However, there were further problems ahead when the Scottish Government overpaid the loans, and then had to ask for money back.
As we forge a new relationship with the EU, we must avoid problems of this nature. The EU is undoubtedly bureaucratic and cumbersome, and I have no doubt that red tape contributed to the problems encountered by the Scottish Government. Yet we have to get our own house in order if we are to provide farmers with the vital support they need. Farmers need to bang on the door of the Government and tell Ministers exactly what kind of system will work for them.
We have an opportunity to design a system that is fit for purpose, that will not be so complex that it is simply unmanageable, that will guarantee payments on time every time. That will be a key test of the BREXIT process, and one I am sure we will rise to the challenge of.