Inaugural Brexit seminar explores key issues

Published Wednesday, 14th June 2017 in Rural Policy Centre news

Brexit seminar

SRUC’s inaugural Brexit seminar explored key issues affecting Scottish and wider UK rural policy at this early stage in the Brexit process.

The event - titled “Scotland’s rural policy options post-2019”- was attended by over 50 key stakeholders from a variety of sectors across Scotland, including several MSPs, which provided a robust discussion.

Steven Thomson, Senior Agricultural Economist, urged Scottish farmers to think seriously about what might happen without the support of their French counterparts. He informed the audience that that political pressure from France had been primarily responsible for guaranteeing the continuation of the current level of CAP payments to farmers.

“Once we have left the EU the continuation of any support payments will have to be justified to often sceptical UK taxpayers and a press quick to criticise any payments that deliver no real outcomes. There is a good case to be made but any farmers still regarding their payments as a right should think again. They should be looking hard at their business, paying attention to the messages and considering the options.” 

Kev Bevan, a Senior Consultant with SAC Consulting, pointed out that many conversations that farmers are having about alternative Scottish or UK payment regimes are failing to account for possible new trading rules.

“Whether it is soft Brexit or hard Brexit we will still need to comply with EU rules to access EU markets. A hard Brexit and membership of the World Trade Organisation promises heavy tariffs on grain and meat exports to the EU. The WTO also has rigid rules against payments to producers that are coupled to production.”

Both SRUC speakers emphasised that while a weak currency does help exports, it also raises the cost of inputs like fertilisers and machinery. They questioned what that might do to the wider rural economy with markets, suppliers and food processors all affected.

During the subsequent question and answer period, Brexit Minister Michael Russell MSP offered some perspectives on the Scottish Government’s priorities during Brexit negotiations. In addition to emphasising the importance of addressing wider rural policy - rather than just agriculture - and the potential trade implications of Brexit, he also highlighted the extent to which ongoing negotiations will impact people. “So whilst leaders should go on imagining the possibilities that Brexit may confer, they must simultaneously be mindful of the livelihoods that will be impacted by the process.”

This seminar is the first in a series of Brexit-related events, the next of which will be held in autumn. It is also part of ongoing work that staff from SRUC Research and SAC Consulting are currently doing on the wider implications of Brexit for rural Scotland, which includes creating reports and briefings, monitoring policy developments, and collating policy.

Photo caption: Steven Thomson, Senior Agricultural Economist, addressing the Brexit seminar.

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