277.Defra has seen its budget reduced by 29.9% in real terms from 2010/11 to 2015/16. Mr Smith reflected on the fact that Defra had been “first in the line suffering government cuts”, and expressed concern that “they do not have the necessary resources and skillsets in place to take us forward to make sure that our industry has a smooth transition”. Mr Wright agreed: “The replacement of the Common Agricultural Policy is a job that would tax Stephen Hawking on speed. The fact that Defra has to do that in two years is a huge undertaking and it is not surprising that that is taking up a great deal of its time.”
278.Witnesses identified several roles Defra would be required to take on to support the agricultural sector post-Brexit:
279.In addition, the Food Ethics Council highlighted the importance of ‘business as usual’: “There are many long-term issues and initiatives that the UK Government must retain (and build) focus on, rather than be ‘distracted’ by Brexit alone.” These included reducing food waste and improving food and nutrition security for the UK.
280.The Minister responded: “There are discussions across government and the Cabinet Office looking at where we may need additional people and where we can pull people from … we are doing a lot of work to pull policy expertise back from the agencies.” Pamela Thompson, Head of the EU Exit Team for Animal and Plant Health at Defra, noted: “It is not just about the bodies doing this; it is about the people who have a depth of knowledge who can go into the detail of the law … I feel confident now, six months in, that I have the right team behind me to be able to do it. It will remain a priority for the next two years because we have to get it right.”
281.As Which? noted, agencies and regulators, as well as central Government, will face increased demands: “Overseeing and checking compliance, along with the customs checks that will need to be introduced, will take a lot more resources and require additional capacity and expertise within the Food Standards Agency and Food Standards Scotland.” With reference to trade in meat, Prof Matthews stated:
“The UK would have every right to check on the health and disease status of these herds. There would be an operational issue in that much of this checking and so on is now done through EU institutions, so you would have to build up that capacity here. You would be sending inspectors to those—let us take Brazil as the example—Brazilian meat plants to ensure that the standards there met the standards that you required for import.”
282.The Minister noted:
“We have already the [Animal and Plant Health Agency] … who deal with all the export certification work. The bit that would be additional is doing something that the FVO, the EU’s veterinary office, currently deals with—the inward inspections of plants in China or whatever country you are seeking to import from. That would be new, additional work and we would need additional people to be able to do that work, but the expertise to draw on to do that work is already there.”
283.As we noted in Chapter 4, Defra currently works with many EU bodies and agencies. If the Government wants this work to continue, and if the UK is not able to continue to draw on EU resources post-Brexit, those bodies will need to be replicated in the UK, with corresponding resource implications.
284.UK bodies, such as the food inspection agencies, will need additional resources if they are to take on roles currently fulfilled by EU institutions in relation to the agri-food sector. One of these new roles will be an inspection workforce working in countries with which we have FTAs to ensure the upholding of welfare and phytosanitary standards.
285.Defra faces an enormous challenge in repatriating agricultural policy alongside fisheries and environmental policy, particularly given the heavy cuts in its budget over recent years. Its role in relation to the agriculture sector will also increase significantly. The Department will need significant numbers of additional staff, with appropriate expertise. We welcome Defra’s use of expertise from its agencies as an interim measure to inform policy development ahead of Brexit, but the Department will need to secure sufficient long-term resource.
459 House of Commons Library, EU Referendum: Impact on UK Agriculture Policy, , May 2016, p 14
460 ; also (Prof Wyn Grant)
463 Written evidence from Food Research Collaboration ()
464 Written evidence from Welsh Government (); also (Wesley Aston) and (George Dunn)
465 Written evidence from Food Ethics Council ()
468 Written evidence from Which? ()
471 Supplementary written evidence from Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs ()