Brexit could be a leap into the light for UK agriculture
David Cameron describes leaving the EU as a 'leap in the dark' for the UK. And to a certain degree he is right.
However, what those in the 'remain' camp fail to acknowledge is that staying IN the EU would equally be a leap in the dark, but one over which we would have much less control.
This is particularly the case for UK agriculture.
We have no more idea of what the CAP will look like in 10 years than we do of what an independent UK agricultural policy may look like post-Brexit.
If the EU continues to accept new member states (Albania, Macedonia, and Turkey are among those currently trying to join) with comparatively low GDPs and high areas of agricultural land then UK farmers will see a significant reduction in the amount of funding received from the CAP. If such countries become members they will contribute little additional money to the EU (and therefore the CAP) and what funding there is will have to be stretched over a much wider geographical area.
According to the World Bank 49.5% of Turkey's total area is used as agricultural land. That equates to 95 million acres, more than twice the area of agricultural land in the UK (43 million acres - also using World Bank figures). However, Turkey's GDP per capita is around a quarter of that of the UK.
If Turkey were to join the EU 5, 10 or 20 years down the line they would therefore become yet another net gainer from the CAP while the UK's return further decreases. In 2014 UK agriculture received £2.9 billion back from our taxpayers' £4.6 billion contribution to the CAP. In 2024 this could look like a rather princely sum and a very good deal in comparison.
Early indications from MPs and ministers in the Brexit camp, as well as public opinion polls, suggest that a post-EU government would support the agricultural industry through thick and thin and uphold the current level of support for farmers. This may well prove to be a much better deal in the long run.
This is only the financial aspect and there is also no telling what the next set of reforms to the CAP may look like. If the recent 'greening' is anything to go by then regulation is only going to increase and make it harder still for farmers to 'earn' their subsidies. Not to mention that the sharp turn away from production support could be very damaging to our national food security.
There would, no doubt, be challenges as the UK found its feet outside the EU. This is inevitable. However, there would, at last, be scope for our farmers, taxpayers and politicians to have a credible say on how much is spent on agriculture and on what. In many ways this seems like a leap into the light.