Who is Looking Forward to Controlling Our Own Laws Post Brexit?

Who is Looking Forward to Controlling Our Own Laws Post Brexit?

Piece originally written by George Dunn, TFA Chief Executive, for The Cumberland News and Westmorland Gazette, published on the 25 January 2019

A much-vaunted benefit of Brexit is the ability we will regain to make our own laws.  Undoubtedly there is benefit in ensuring the law-making sovereignty of Parliament and its closer accountability to its electorate.  However, often those who are most keen to promote this sovereignty as a Brexit benefit, are unable to identify any problematical laws that the EU might have unfairly thrust upon us.  Nevertheless, depending on the eventual shape of our withdrawal, Parliament will, once again, be able to legislate only in the national interest.  The concern for UK agriculture will be whether what is purported to be in the national interest happens to coincide with what our industry needs.

Recent experience would suggest that there could be problems ahead.  Take for example the recent case of the ban on the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments.  Of course, this is an EU ban and legitimate questions have been asked about the scientific basis of the blanket ban.  Powers for granting derogations have been given to Member States.  However, despite the UK Government espousing a risk-based approach to regulation, it supported the blanket ban in the EU and has only made very limited use of the derogations at its disposal.  This has led, by the Government’s own admission, to a reduction in crop areas for oilseed rape and sugar beet in particular and an increase in pesticide use.

Let’s look next at the recent announced ban of the outdoor use of metaldehyde across Great Britain from Spring 2020.  The loss of metaldehyde will mean that there will only be one active ingredient available for slug control raising the possibility of the development of resistance.  Farmers have been taking a responsible and sensitive approach to the use of metaldehyde whereas other users in private parks and gardens have not been necessarily so careful. If a major reduction in use was required perhaps DEFRA should have targeted private parks and gardens first.  However, DEFRA has chosen to use its discretion to bring in a disproportionate, complete ban.

The ending of free movement, as we leave the European Single Market, will allow the UK to establish its own migration policy.  Much of our food and farming sector relies upon non-UK born labour coming principally from Eastern European countries of the EU.  With little by way of UK born labour available, we need a migration system which prioritises the needs of these sectors.  However, the recent report of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) commissioned by Government and which it is now using to inform its policy, has done nothing to assist.  It concluded that industries, such as agriculture and food processing, have been fortunate to have had a supply of non-UK born labour and now they had to look to the domestic market and simply pay more.  It has been concluded that only highly skilled workers earning at least £30,000 should be given visas to work in the UK post Brexit.  It is alarming that we have come to such a naïve conclusion to discriminate on a narrow skills basis rather than considering needs.

Finally, on trade, DEFRA Secretary of State, Michael Gove has often stated his opposition to allowing imports of food and food ingredients produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards than apply in the UK.  However, the Government has fallen short of using the Parliamentary process to enshrine this into UK law.  Why would this be the case other than to leave the door open to allow lower standard imports sometime in the future?

Perhaps making our own laws may not be all it is cracked up to be!

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