Sunday, August 09, 2009

Eurosceptic MPs deny they had snouts in trough

Eurosceptic Conservative MPs have argued that there is nothing inconsistent in receiving payments from the CAP whilst being critical of it - which is indeed the case. The three MPs were the subject of an investigation screened by More4.

Former Conservative Party chairman Michael Ancram was said to have received £11,451 for his farm in the Scottish borders (not an unusual figure for a large business). David Heathcoat-Amory received £114,000 for his Scottish farms while Philip Dunne received £201,000 for his farm in Herefordshire.

The three MPs were among 45 who last year supported Eurosceptic Bill Cash's amendment to the Lisbon Treaty. All three of them mounted a robust defence of the farm subsidies received by businesses in which they had an interest. Mr Ancram pointed out that as a non-active partner, he only received money if the farm made a profit, which it hadn't done in the 12 months to May 2009. The year before it had only made a small profit. He commented, 'I'd love to see the CAP reformed - as long as it exists I'm entitled to claim.'

Mr Heathcoat-Amory said his arrangements were part of a farming partnership and the money didn't go into his bank account. Mr Dunne, who is MP for Ludlow, said the farm support arrangements enabled him to employ 20 people and farm effectively to award-winning environmental standards. He agreed that the CAP was in need of reform, but said it should be done at a European-wide level so UK farmers were not disadvantaged (which is indeed the only level at which it could be done).

If a flawed system exists, it is difficult to blame individuals who are entitled to claim for doing so. Nevertheless, as the countdown to a general election begins, it is evident that there are some contradictions in Conservative policy on Europe. Part of this arises from a tension between the Eurosceptic views of Conservative activists and many MPs and the need to pursue a strategy at the European level which protects British interests. Antagonising the EU over a range of issues could reduce the political capital at Britain's disposal to pursue CAP reform, although it could be argued that Labour has not made as much progress in that direction as it originally hoped.

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