With the UK looking likely to exit transition in December without a trade deal, there has been plenty of coverage of what life outside the bloc will mean for Britain. There has been rather less coverage of what we have avoided by virtue of having left the EU. Yesterday came one of the first big EU agreements to which the UK has not been party: the latest reform of the EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). In typical fashion, it resulted in a fudge engineered by powerful lobbyists and which will guarantee vast sums of public money going to waste.
The whole point of the latest round of CAP reform was that it was supposed to shift the emphasis of agricultural subsidies towards looking after the environment. Some 30 per cent of direct payments to farms were supposed to go to environmental schemes. But then the larger agricultural interests seized control and came up with a ‘compromise’ which watered-down the proposals. As a result, in some areas, 40 per cent of all subsidies will go on 'green causes', even if the genuine environmental improvements are minimal. The fudge has now been approved by the EU parliament, thanks to the block vote of the European People’s Party, the Socialists and Democrats and the Renew group — the latter being a kind of pan-European Liberal Democrats whose name belies the reality of EU politics: that nothing ever really changes.
The result? EU taxpayers will be paying €387 billion a year (£352 billion) to subsidise agriculture, yet rather little of this will be going towards improving the environment. It will amount to more vast handouts, which are really nothing more than lightly-disguised protectionism for EU producers.
I wish I could say that newly-independent Britain had chosen a different route. Yet the reality is that the government has decided to reinvent the CAP through the Basic Payment Scheme — which will continue to dole out billions to barley barons, grouse shoot-owners and other large landowners without any guarantee of public good. As with CAP, farmers need only make sure they earn a few brownie points — or rather greenie points — by diversifying crops, planting hedges and so on. The chance to take a more free-market route, where farmers earn money for growing and selling food, rather than being propped with state handouts has, for the moment, been lost.