Defra’s long-promised review into £160 million of disputed EU convergence funding is expected to be announced next week.
However, despite not being officially notified of the review, Rural Secretary Fergus Ewing has already written to Defra Secretary Michael Gove demanding that Scotland has an input into the remit and appointment of investigators.
Speaking exclusively to The Courier ahead of his meeting with Mr Gove and other devolved administrations in London on Monday, Mr Ewing insisted the process to investigate how £160 million of EU funding intended for Scottish farmers ended up being distributed across the UK had to be made jointly.
“I know nothing for sure because he hasn’t had the grace to let us know. However I’m pleased to hear that at long last there’s going to be a review, but this process of instructing the review, the remit, and the people that carry it out must be agreed by the Scottish and UK Governments,” he said.
“If you think you can just dictate who carries it out, pick someone of your choosing that suits you to carry out the review then you’re doing what you did in the first place, making a decision without reference to Scotland and which may well prove to be unfair to Scotland. I have written to Mr Gove ahead of our meeting stating that we want to discuss how the review is carried out.
“It would surely be absurd for him to select someone without reference to us, but that seems to have been what he envisages.”
Last month Mr Ewing received a new mandate at Holyrood, including from Conservative MSPs, to pursue Scotland’s claim for EU money which was intended for the most disadvantaged Scottish farmers but which the UK Government instead chose to distribute across the country. Mr Ewing has made it clear he expects the Treasury, rather than farmers in England or Wales, to stump up the disputed cash.
Also on the agenda on Monday is a discussion on Defra’s plans for a post-Brexit funding package for rural Scotland which Mr Ewing fears will be slashed.
“Everything Mr Gove has said would support that theory,” he said.
“At the referendum Mr Gove and Mr Eustice and other pro-Brexit UK ministers said after Brexit the UK Government would at least match the EU money , and that to me is a pledge made by Government Ministers and if a Minister makes a pledge, either they deliver it or they resign.
“So it’s up to Mr Gove to secure the UK Government delivers the pledge he made, which probably led to many people to voting leave in the first place. You can’t go around making huge promises then not expect your peers and colleagues not to call you to account.”