‘No surprise’ if agri-environmental laws weakened after Brexit

Moves to water down environmental regulations relating to food production will need to be closely scrutinised, according to a new report by the UK’s nature regulators.

The Land Use Policy Group devised a number of possible post-Brexit policy scenarios for the UK’s agricultural sector – a focus on production, trade liberalisation and the promotion of environmental sustainability were three of the scenarios.

In some cases the trend towards intensification of production, including more housing of livestock, could “gather pace”, the group noted. In others, biodiversity and the environment would be placed front and centre of any scheme replacing the Common Agricultural Policy.

Unsurprisingly, the LUPG predicted a “period of greater uncertainty for agriculture” that will have “impacts on the climate of confidence and investment”. The agricultural industry will therefore require a “robust” policy framework from government, which won’t be easy given the tensions between, for example, stronger regulation and the liberalisation of trade, the group noted.

Indeed, it “would not be surprising” if attempts were made to weaken existing environmental laws, the experts said. Amending legislation and straying too far from EU policies in areas like agrochemicals will also require “even closer scrutiny”.

The environment secretary Michael Gove has committed to “put the environment first” when farming subsidies are replaced. “… from all the conversations I have had so far with farmers, land owners and managers I know that there is a growing appetite for a new system of agricultural support which respects their work and puts environmental protection and enhancement first,” he said recently.

However, there has been little detail of how the new system will work, and this uncertainty could lead to environmental protection dropping down the priority list for farmers, the LUPG warned.

“… the extent to which farmers will wish to or feel able to priortise environmental outcomes given other calls on resources and their risk management strategies may also change” after the UK leaves the EU, the report reads. “Clarity about long term government policy, including commitment to environmental legislation and substantive agri-environment incentive schemes will almost certainly be necessary to reassure those who are concerned that priorities may have changed along with the withdrawal from the CAP and may be reluctant to enter new schemes in the coming years.”

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