With so much else in the news of late, the topic of farming appears to have been overlooked by the press, nevertheless, this is a key sector of the UK economy and hence it’s worth looking at what this election result could mean for it.
Andrea Leadsom is replaced as Environment Secretary with Michael Gove taking over
So far this is possibly the only hard fact to emerge out of the post-election landscape. Andrea Leadsom did not necessarily win the hearts and minds of farmers during her brief tenure and so for farmers the arrival of a replacement, any replacement, may well be seen as a chance for some sort of improvement. In the world of agriculture, therefore, the key question, essentially, is likely to be whether or not Michael Gove will have learned from his experiences in the department of education, where he managed to make himself very unpopular, very quickly to the point where the National Union of Teachers (NUT) made history by passing a unanimous vote of no confidence in him (in March 2013). If Gove shows that he has learned from this and is willing to listen, there is a good chance that he will be accepted by the farming community, but the broader environmental community may be quite another matter. Gove’s appointment has already been the subject of fierce criticism from environmental groups. His actions will most certainly be under scrutiny and this may constrain his ability to concentrate on the concerns of the farming community.
Brexit looms large
As has been pointed out many times, the Conservatives went into this election on the premise of strengthening their mandate for the Brexit negotiations. They have done precisely the opposite. Nevertheless, it is the Conservatives who will be leading the negotiations and it is Michael Gove who will be representing the interests of the agricultural community. This would be the same Michael Gove who is openly Eurosceptic and was a prominent member of the Leave campaign. With this in mind, it will be interesting to see how negotiations progress. Michael Gove will also be responsible for setting out post-Common Agricultural Policy strategy. At current time, CAP payments are scheduled to continue until 2022, since the current parliament has pledged to continue them for the period between the UK’s exit from the EU (expected to be in 2019) and the next election (which should be in 2022 per the provisions of the fixed-term parliament act). Of course, at this point many farmers (and non farmers) may will be taking these pledges and dates with a large pinch of salt.
Farmers are still desperate for some degree of certainty
Like many businesses, farmers need to be able to plan ahead and in order to be able to do so effectively, they need answers to key questions. For example:
- What taxes will there be (and at what level)?
- What subsidies will be available (and at what level)?
- What regulations will be in place (e.g. as regards the use of chemicals in farming)?
- What measures will be used to stop the UK being flooded with food made to lower welfare and/or environmental standards?
- Will farmers still have access to EU workers?
- What sort of level will Sterling be (farmers may have to use imported products such as fertiliser and generally have a need for fuel)?
Of course, many of these questions relate to Brexit in one way or another, hence it’s probably fair to say that no politician or party would be able to give a clear answer to them at this point in time. That being so, possibly the single biggest message to take away from this election is that in and of itself it matters a whole lot less than the Brexit process.