Am Bratach No. 321
July 2018

Gove disclaims responsibility for Scottish rural policy after Brexit

Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, has acknowledged that future agricultural support must be tailored to the nature of Scotland’s landscape, recognising the high percentage of lessfavoured areas and the needs of upland farmers. However, he reiterated that the detail of how this is worked out remains a matter for the Scottish Government, suggesting that the Holyrood administration may wish to introduce its own agriculture bill to fine-tune how rural
funding will be managed after Brexit.

Mr Gove’s comments came on June 27 during an evidence session on the implications of Brexit for Scottish agriculture and fisheries, during which he took questions from members of the Scottish Government’s rural economy and connectivity committee.

The session followed the publication of a Holyrood consultation paper setting out priorities for a new agricultural strategy for Scotland after 2019. The report, titled Stability and Simplicity, emphasised that while a majority of Scots did not vote for Brexit, “change now seems inevitable”. In his introduction, cabinet secretary Fergus Ewing forecast an uncertain future, in which Holyrood “might not even have the powers over farming, food production and environment previously devolved to Scotland”. However, Mr Gove repeatedly referred to the “autonomy of the devolution settlement” in his evidence to committee on June 27. “The money is there; how it is spent should be for the Scottish Government minister to decide,” he asserted.

Crofting was not mentioned by any of the committee delegates in questions to Mr Gove, although he referred in passing to the declining demand for sheep meat within the UK, suggesting that growing markets were instead emerging in the Middle East and “elsewhere”. Tapping these new markets would ensure that upland farmers have “a secure future”, Mr Gove claimed.

Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross MSP Gail Ross took the opportunity to challenge Mr Gove about the implications of Brexit for migrant workers employed in the soft fruit, salmon farming and fish processing sectors. Mr Gove rejected the suggestion that Scotland should have control over its own immigration system to protect the specific needs of these rural industries, arguing that the four UK countries should work “collectively and collaboratively” in this area. Commenting after the discussion, Ms Ross said that Mr Gove had ignored “the serious concerns of the sector”, disregarding EU migrants who had chosen to make their lives in Scotland permanently.

Jamie Greene, regional MSP for the west of Scotland, pressed Mr Gove to clarify who holds the primary responsibility for agricultural policy in Scotland. “Is it the Scottish Government’s responsibility, the UK Government’s or a bit of both?” he asked. Mr Gove replied that it was “a devolved matter”, batting responsibility back into Mr Ewing’s court. “We have outlined an approach that we believe will help to make farming more productive in England and that will safeguard the environment. I sense that people in Scotland want the Scottish Government to be a little clearer about the direction of travel post-2024.”

So far, Mr Ewing has given little indication of any major changes in the way agricultural funding will be allocated. “In the short-term, I am proposing that support schemes for active farming, food production, environmental improvements, forestry and rural development fundamentally stay largely the same,” he stated in the introduction to June’s consultation report. “However, where schemes and processes can usefully be simplified and streamlined, we should do so.”

Commenting on the document, Scottish Crofting Federation chairman Russell Smith said: “Clear principles such as maintaining environmental standards are welcomed, as are the suggested possibilities of innovation, such as simplifying the application process for those whose circumstances stay largely unchanged year on year.” “There are other areas in the consultation that we will be commenting on, such as mapping of eligible areas, duplicating inspections and over-severe penalties, which all cause problems for our members.”

CLICK to buy a postal subscription online

Go back to Home Page