Going against the grain on farming after Brexit

Image caption Andrew RT Davies owns a farm in the Vale of Glamorgan

I have been getting into the festive spirit by heading to the winter fair at the Royal Welsh showground.

Amid the carols, Christmas trinkets and turkeys, there was plenty of serious business to discuss.

The comments of Andrew RT Davies that most farmers do not trust the Welsh Government to deliver a "fit for purpose" replacement subsidy system after Brexit was a bit like throwing a grenade into a pond.

When I put this to those at the fair, the response generally fell into two categories.

There was the cautious view that new post-Brexit subsidies would be less vulnerable at Whitehall.

Grain barons

And there was the view that Cardiff would have a better handle on the needs of Welsh hill farmers, rather than Westminster where the grain barons of East Anglia may hold more sway.

Currently the EU sets the core principles of the Common Agricultural Policy.

But farming is devolved, which means that the Welsh Government administers the payments, and has the ability to make limited modifications.

Andrew RT Davies wants the EU function transferred to Westminster.

The Welsh Government wants to design its own made-in Wales scheme.

There is probably scope for everyone to meet in the middle. Both sides accept that there would have to be some kind of UK framework to maintain a level-playing field.

In fact, the first minister has floated the possibility of animal health operating under a UK framework.

It comes down to where the balance of power should lie in what eventually replaces the current system.

The Welsh Government wants as much freedom as possible to come up with a bespoke set of rules and regulations that fit in to a UK framework. So Cardiff takes the lead.

Andrew RT Davies's position is that the UK government comes up with the main rules, and the Welsh Government has the ability to make certain changes, like it does now. So London takes the lead.

The farming unions are on the fence at the moment. Both NFU Cymru and the Farmers' Union of Wales believe there should be a UK-wide framework but it would have to be agreed by all of the devolved nations.

Funding

The union solution could, in theory, work for everyone, if the huge issue of funding can be agreed. I have no doubt that will be easier said than done.

The stance Andrew RT Davies is taking is interesting in that it goes against the grain of the push for greater devolution in so many areas.

He insists he does not want to strip powers away from Cardiff Bay but he is saying that the scope of its powers in agriculture go no further.

As you would expect, there has been an indignation from the Welsh Government at the suggestion that most farmers do not trust it.

The big question it wants to know the answer to is on what basis has Mr Davies come out with the claim in the first place.

And the Welsh Conservative leader will have to justify his apparent lack of faith in the Welsh Government having most of the control of farm subsidies, when he is happy for income tax to be devolved.

On average, subsidies make up 80% of Welsh farmers' incomes. No surprise then that Brexit will have more of an impact in this industry than just about anywhere else.

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