Ben Gartside

Agriculture Bill set to cause further Tory spending divides

Agriculture Bill set to cause further Tory spending divides
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With a twenty billion pound spending increase in the NHS, many ministers are quietly seething at the latest Treasury warning of 'no more money left' for other departments. Gavin Williamson wants an extra £20 billion for Defence, and is allegedly threatening to bring down the Prime Minister if he isn't given it. Now another minister is preparing to go into bat for his department.

One such Minister is Michael Gove. With the first Agriculture Bill since 1947 likely to come before the Commons before recess, the environment secretary keen to have adequate funding for the bill which is likely to define his stint in Defra.

Whilst the Agriculture Bill will not have any funding directly attached to it, as funding is ring fenced until 2022, the results of the next spending review in 2019 will determine the fate of funding for farmers in the UK, and perhaps Gove’s ministerial legacy in Defra.

According to a source close to the Agriculture Bill, Gove is keen to move for public money for public goods, with the belief that the premier public good is the environment. However the Treasury are expected to be scrutinising every penny.

Insiders on both side of the divide predict a scrap. Gove is expected to call for significant spending commitments, after hiring two former Bright Blue employees, Ben Caldecott and Sam Hall, who had previously produced a CAP replacement policy document calling for 3.1 billion a year for a new rural payments scheme.

Allies of Gove are concerned that without the necessary funds down the line, the Agriculture Bill would mean lower incomes for farmers and fewer environmental benefits than would otherwise be the case. However, it is believed that the Treasury is favourable to the New Zealand agricultural model, which removed import tariff and quotas alongside reductions of subsidies.

However, what kind of message would this send? Ever since Gove joined Defra, he has been on a mission – backed by No 10 – to help the Tories rebrand as the party of the environment. Cut farming subsidies hardly pushes such a message. The problem for Downing Street and the Treasury is that many ministers have seen the NHS bung Jeremy Hunt secured as more incentive to fight for their department rather than roll over. Watch this space.