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Agricultural Policy

Volume 653: debated on Thursday 24 January 2019

6. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs on agricultural policy after the UK leaves the EU. (908751)

We continue to have regular conversations across the Government and with ministerial colleagues on all aspects of exiting the European Union, and agricultural policy is a key part of that. The Agriculture Bill is part of the Government’s programme of legislation to deliver a smooth exit from the EU, and as the Secretary of State said, we must seize the opportunities of a green Brexit and break from the EU’s common agricultural policy.

Does the Minister agree that the Agriculture Bill presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help our farmers, protect our environment, and be part of the fourth agricultural revolution?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right—I am still trying to work out what the first three agricultural revolutions were, but I fully support his sentiment. The Bill constitutes the first major agricultural reform in the UK for more than 70 years, and we will support our farming industries, as we have done as a Government since the 1920s and long before we joined the European Economic Community. The Bill will also allow us to break from the EU’s common agricultural policy, and it is an incredibly positive and dynamic step forward.

A no-deal Brexit would mean that the UK would not be listed as an approved country for agricultural exports to the EU. Gaining that status could take months to negotiate. Given that almost a third of sheep production in the UK goes to the EU, what discussions has the Minister had with the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs about compensating sheep farmers for the potential loss of that market?

We are absolutely focused on delivering the deal. The hon. Gentleman has expressed very clearly the dangers and pitfalls of no deal, while at the same time people in his party are complaining about the dangers of no deal, yet refusing to back the deal. That is completely irresponsible. I urge the hon. Gentleman to encourage his colleagues to back the deal.

We do not allow two bites of the cherry at substantive questions, but if the hon. Gentleman wants to chance his arm at topicals, he might be successful. We look forward to that with eager anticipation.

There is a real danger in looking at farming policy dissociated from what happens further along the food chain. This week, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee took evidence from the National Farmers Union and the Food and Drink Federation. Those organisations are obviously concerned about things like tariffs if we exit without a deal, but they are also really concerned about packaging, machine parts and so on—everything that is involved in food production.

Of course, the modern economy means that all these issues are integrated. As we said, the Agriculture Bill offers the possibility of a more bespoke policy. That is what Brexit can potentially deliver. So we are completely aware that a lot of these industries are integrated, and have a wide range of problems to solve. That is something that we are fully prepared to deal with.

Is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told me two weeks ago that he believed other European countries would be looking enviously at the UK’s deal? Is that officially the Government’s position, and if so, are they not concerned that it puts the entire European project at risk, because everyone will want an identical deal, and there will be no European Union left?

Of course, my right hon. Friend the Member for Surrey Heath (Michael Gove) has said a lot of things in the last three weeks—I am not particularly aware of them. In terms of the sentiment, the hon. Gentleman will understand that agriculture is a devolved issue. As a Government, we still view Brexit in a very positive light. I think there are lots of opportunities, as things like the Agriculture Bill would suggest, for this country going forward. What other countries do is up to them. I do not know what moves there are for other countries to leave the EU, but that is exactly what we intend to do: we want to deliver the deal, and we are leaving the EU on 29 March.