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Jeremy's Blog 12th March 2021: The Budget and Investment

This article by Jeremy Moody first appeared in the CAAV e-Briefing of 11th March 2021.

Barely two months after the EU Transition Period, the pace of post-EU policy development is sustained, especially in England and perhaps particularly with DEFRA. Without the 28 state, 3 institution haggling of the EU (the post-2020 CAP is still unresolved), George Eustice saw Brexit as the opportunity to do domestic policy better while some in Government already see the urgency imposed by a 2024 election.

Yesterday saw DEFRA both:

  • provide initial information on the Sustainable Farming Incentive with a Pilot shortly open for Expressions of Interest and a general scheme in 2022, starting on the road from BPS to the flagship public goods schemes of the new Agriculture Act complementing this year’s first Basic Payment reductions
  • publish its draft statement interpreting five international environmental principles to inform policy making, replacing the EU’s approach which has been challenged over the years, notably over the precautionary principle and its treatment of innovation.

Supporting innovation, we have the England-only consultation on regulating gene editing, a technique made practically impossible by the European Court. Outside DEFRA, the Culture Secretary has looked beyond GDPR at data “as the great opportunity of our time”, seeing undue caution hampering the innovation that is “an opportunity to be at the forefront of global, data-driven growth”.

All four UK governments have been re-writing inherited EU law in detail for greening and scheme inspection regimes, generally reducing numbers with a more risk-based approach and proportionate penalties. There may already be signs of applicants preferring new Countryside Stewardship agreements under English rules to carrying forward old ones under EU rules. That is starker still for rolled-forward HLS agreements for which old regime penalties might now run back to the start of the agreement over a decade ago.

The domestic scrutiny that accompanies domestic law making sees more pressure on animal welfare, probably also on pesticides, while acting on water and air quality. England and Wales have consulted on limiting animal movements, notably where temperatures are below 5oC; Scotland on the underlying FAWC recommendations. England now proposes moving to end badger culling, with the hope of a cattle vaccine. More can be expected but, with the proposed Animal Health and Welfare Pathway, DEFRA accepts that, while health is a productivity issue, welfare can be a public good for which payment above the regulatory baseline might be made.

The foundations of a new architecture are being laid. How it will evolve and work with devolution will soon be tested.

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