Brexit: agriculture Contents

Chapter 2: Withdrawing from the Common Agricultural Policy

The development of the Common Agricultural Policy

11.The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) was established in 1962. The original purpose of the CAP was to encourage better productivity in the food chain in the years following World War II, thereby providing a fair standard of living for the agricultural community, stabilising the market and ensuring the availability of food to European consumers at reasonable prices.15

12.Initially, the CAP offered high support prices to farmers, combined with border protection and export support to incentivise production. Yet by the 1980s the EU had permanent surpluses in many farm products, resulting in the so-called ‘butter mountains’ and ‘wine lakes’, and the CAP accounted for well over half of the Community budget.16 Subsequent reforms have aimed to bring down the cost of the CAP and shift the policy away from production support (through market interventions such as price support and border tariffs) towards income support decoupled from production.17 The most recent reform, which covered the period 2014–2020, followed this trend.

13.In its 2014 Balance of Competences review, the Government found that, notwithstanding numerous reforms, the objectives of the CAP “remained unclear”. Most respondents saw the CAP as “misdirected, cumbersome, costly and bureaucratic”.18

14.In order to facilitate the functioning of the Single Market in agricultural products, the EU also sets standards for food, farm animal health and welfare and plant protection products—what the Commission calls “coherent farm-to-table” measures.19 This regulatory framework also governs genetically modified organisms (GMO),20 organic farming, plants and plant products,21 and the marketing of seeds and plant reproductive materials.22 The EU also provides a pan-European regulatory framework for plant protection products (pesticides),23 and EU rules regulate the maximum level of traces of pesticides (‘residue’) allowed in food or feed.24

15.Most of the EU rules covering animal health and welfare are made under Article 43 TFEU;25 to the extent that the rules relate to the Single Market, animal health and welfare are regulated under Article 114 TFEU,26 the aim of which is to facilitate the common market in agricultural goods by enhancing food safety, harmonising standards27 and minimising the spread of diseases.28 Many of these areas are underpinned by international standards.29

An opportunity for change

16.Brexit represents an opportunity to review and redesign the UK’s policy for food and farming. In the words of George Dunn, Chief Executive of the Tenant Farmers Association (TFA):

“There is now the opportunity to put together a broad agricultural and environmental policy that fits our circumstances better than we have had previously. Connected with that, there is the opportunity now to build a new consensus, not just within the farming community but with the animal health and welfare agenda, the environmental agenda and our place in the world in terms of aid and trade.”30

The Food Research Collaboration likewise told us: “Brexit creates a space to ‘do food differently,’ to create new policies and systems to address the failings of the current food system.”31

17.The Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, George Eustice MP, agreed: “For me the greatest opportunity that we have in leaving the EU is to design a better, more coherent domestic policy to support farmers to become more profitable, to support environmental outcomes and to promote things such as animal welfare. That is the real prize, the real gain, if you like.”32

Immediate challenges

18.Though the repatriation of agricultural policy from the EU presents the UK Government with an opportunity to develop a new, long-term approach to food and farming, the focus of this report is on the immediate challenges facing UK agriculture in the approach to Brexit.

19.Guy Smith, Vice President of the NFU, suggested that these challenges could “conceptually” be divided up “between trade, labour and policy or support”.33 NFU Scotland similarly highlighted “trade, the movement of labour and support” as key issues.34 Wesley Aston, Chief Executive of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, argued that “The main critical policy decision is around trade. It is only when we figure out what actual trade agreements we reach in terms of import and export standards that we are then in a position to fully understand what we do on our support levels and the format of that support.”35

20.From a food manufacturing point of view, Ian Wright, Director General of the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), also believed that “the three key parts of the Brexit decision that are most challenging are the labour market, the regulatory framework and the future of tariffs and trade”.36

Conclusions and recommendations

21.Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy and the European Union will have fundamental implications for the agricultural sector in the UK. In the long term the UK has an opportunity to review and improve its agriculture, environment, and food policy, better meeting the needs of the agriculture sector, the environment and consumers. But in the short term, the Government will need to work closely with the industry to help it respond to critical challenges: forging new trading arrangements with the EU and the rest of the world; providing regulatory stability and clarity; addressing the future of funding for the agricultural sector; and ensuring access to labour.


15 European Commission, ‘The history of the common agricultural policy’, (April 2017): https://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/cap–overview/history_en [accessed 26 April 2017]

16 Oral evidence taken on 9 December 2015 (Session 2015–16), 8 (Prof Wyn Morgan)

17 European Commission, Overview of CAP Reform 2014–2020, Agricultural Policy Perspectives Brief, No 5 (December 2013)

18 HM Government, Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union: Agriculture (2014) pp 5–8: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/335026/agriculture–final–report.pdf [accessed 19 April 2017]

19 European Commission, ‘Food safety: overview’, (April 2017): http://ec.europa.eu/food/overview_en [accessed 27 April 2017]

20 House of Commons Library, Brexit: impact across policy areas, Briefing Paper 07213, August 2016, p 52

21 This body of legislation prevents the introduction into the EU, or the spread throughout the EU, of harmful organisms. Council Directive 2000/29/EC of 8 May 2000 on protective measures against the introduction into the Community of organisms harmful to plants or plant products and against their spread within the Community OJ L 169 (10 July 2000) will be repealed and replaced by Regulation 2016/2031 of 26 October 2016 on protective measures against pests of plants OJ L 317/4 (23 November 2016) on 14 December 2019.

22 Seed imported into the EU from third countries must meet equivalent standards to be accepted into the EU market. European Commission, ‘Equivalence requirements for non-EU countries’ (April 2017): http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/plant_propagation_material/equivalence_requirements_non–eu_en [accessed 20 April 2017]

23 Before any plant protection product can be placed on the market or used, it must be authorised in the Member State(s) concerned. Regulation (EC) No 1107/2009 of 21 October 2009 concerning the placing of plant protection products on the market and repealing Council Directive 79/117/EEC and 91/414/EEC OJ L 309/1 (24 November 2009) lays down the rules and procedures for authorisation of such products. European Commission, Authorisation of Plant Protection Products (April 2017): http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/authorisation_of_ppp_en [accessed 20 April 2017]

24 European Commission, ‘Maximum Residue Levels’, (April 2017): http://ec.europa.eu/food/plant/pesticides/max_residue_levels_en [accessed 20 April 2017]

25 The EU has legislated to set minimum animal welfare standards, though Member States may maintain stricter rules if they are compatible with the provisions of the Treaty. Article 13 TFEU also recognises animals as sentient beings. European Commission, ‘Animal welfare’, (April 2017): http://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/welfare_en [accessed 20 April 2017]

26 HM Government Review of the Balance of Competences between the United Kingdom and the European Union: Animal Health and Welfare and Food Safety (2013), p 12: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/227367/DEF–PB13979–BalOfComp–HMG–WEB.PDF [accessed 20 April 2017]

27 The UK maintains stricter rules on slaughter and animal welfare broadly. House of Commons Library, Brexit: impact across policy areas, Briefing Paper 07213, August 2016, p 64

28 European Commission, ‘The EU Animal Health Law’, (April 2017): http://ec.europa.eu/food/animals/health/regulation_en [accessed 20 April 2017]

29 House of Commons Library, Brexit: impact across policy areas, Briefing Paper 07213, August 2016, p 64

31 Written evidence from Food Research Collaboration (ABR0024)

34 Written evidence from NFU Scotland (ABR0007)




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