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Clarity on farm support is miles away

Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.
Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission.

Boris Johnson now has the mandate he wanted “to get Brexit done”.

He will succeed in this, probably by his target date of the end of January – but only then will the hard work begin to secure a trade deal with the EU-27.

His goal is the end of 2020, but even with his majority at Westminster that is not in his gift. This will be a long and complex negotiation and it is crucial for agriculture. A good trade deal with the EU-27 will maintain access to the market and blunt plans to import cheap food.

His huge majority should make negotiations with the EU easier and EU trade commissioner Phil Hogan will be relieved to be negotiating with a government that can deliver on commitments.

Despite the election finally delivering certainty there is still a long road to a new agricultural support plan to replace the CAP and probably an even longer wait for a trade deal.

Key questions for farmers are how determined the new government is to make farm policy significantly greener than the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and how much autonomy will be given to Scotland.

The new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has published an ambitious “green deal” for the EU. The 24-page road map is a plan to make Europe the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. But, as with most EU plans, it is high on aspirations and short on delivery mechanisms. The EU aim is to be sustainable and competitive, but the plan proposes no radical changes to the CAP and direct payments, which are already nominally linked to climate change mitigation.

It promises early action, in the shape of a report by next spring, on a new farm-to-fork strategy which will become the basis of a sustainable food plan, and it says farmers are key to managing the transition to a more sustainable food policy.

The report has been welcomed by most organisations, on the basis that no one can risk criticising green plans.

However reading between the lines, farm organisations are saying it is too vague, while for green groups it will be too slow to deliver change.

The new EU farm commissioner, Janusz Wojciechowski, has used the annual Outlook Conference in Brussels to set out his priorities for agriculture.

He promised to oppose cuts to the CAP budget, cut red tape and drive efforts to protect the environment and mitigate climate change.

This is what just about every past farm commissioner promised, with the exception of Phil Hogan who committed to greater fairness for farmers from the supply chain.

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