There has been relatively little discussion so far of what kind of agricultural policy the UK might have if it left the EU and hence the CAP. Agricultural economist and CAP expert Alan Swinbank has been trying to stimulate debate on this issue, but so far with little success. His latest effort is in the journal EuroChoices.
He notes, 'Successive British governments have repeatedly argued for more radical reform of the CAP than the EU has been willing to accept ... To what extent these aspirations would translate into a reduction of support for British farmers, and a greater emphasis on the provision of environmental public goods, should the UK exit the EU is open to question ... British farmers might bitterly complain that they faced an uneven playing field as their competitors were better able to remain in business as a result of more generous Pillar 1 payments subsidising their farming activities.'
Swinbank also poses the question: 'Could a WTO compatible agri-food trade agreements be negotiated with its former EU partners, or would Irish and Brazilian beef face the same tariff barriers on imports into the British market?'
My initial thinking has been that the single farm (soon to be basic) payment should continue during a transitional period if the UK left the EU, but at a somewhat reduced percentage of the current rate, e.g., 90 per cent, 85 per cent, 80 per cent over three years. However, there is danger that this could become set in stone and we would be left with an historically determined form of subsidy rather than debating and re-thinking the pattern of support.
As Swinbank argues, the alternatives do need to be spelt out so that voters can make an informed choice in any referendum.