1. ITV Report

Michael Gove outlines plans to change 'unjust' £3 billion EU farm subsidies after Brexit

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rupert Evelyn

The Environment Secretary has outlined plans to make radical changes to farming subsidies after Brexit.

Under the current EU method, farmers are paid part of a £3 billion subsidy based on how much land they own, which makes up between 50% and 60% of their income.

This scheme will run until March 2024, after which farmers will instead be paid for "public goods" such as protecting and improving the countryside and boosting access to it.

  • How does the EU farming subsidy work?

Michael Gove said he hoped the post-Brexit payments would be "broadly" the same as the current £3 billion subsidies.

In the five years between Brexit and 2024, Michael Gove said the largest of the "unjust and inefficient" subsidies will be curbed, with a maximum cap or a sliding scale of reductions.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove Credit: ITV News

In a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference, the former education secretary said in the future, taxpayers' money would only go on paying for public goods that the market does not provide.

Speaking ahead of the Government's agricultural plans which will be published in the spring, which will be put out for consultation, Mr Gove said the move towards spending money on delivering public goods is part of a four-point plan, which also includes developing a coherent policy on food and giving farmers time and tools to adapt to the future to avoid a "precipitate cliff edge".

The plans also include building "natural capital" - the value nature provides to society - into the approach to land management to establish a sustainable future for the countryside.

"What I want to do is to move away from the current method of subsidy which doesn't really reward efficiency to a method of agricultural support which makes sure that good farmers have new markets for their products and at the same time that the natural environment is enhanced," Mr Gove told ITV News.

Currently farmers get a part of the £3 billion EU subsidy depending on how much land they own. Credit: ITV News

However, some farmers are unsure of what to make of the new plans.

James Cox, a Gloucestershire farmer, told how the current EU subsidies are "vital to our business" and allows him to "reinvest in the business and keep moving forward and unfortunately the commodity prices of what we grow don't make a large enough margin for us to survive properly without them."

James Cox said the EU subsidy is 'vital' to his farm. Credit: ITV News

Speaking to the Oxford conference, Mr Gove added: "Building on previous countryside stewardship and agri-environment schemes, we will design a scheme accessible to almost any land owner or manager who wishes to enhance the natural environment by planting woodland, providing new habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity, contributing to improved water quality and returning cultivated land to wildflower meadows or other more natural states.

"We will also make additional money available for those who wish to collaborate to secure environmental improvements collectively at landscape scale."

He also said that ensuring public access to the countryside was a public good, though he acknowledged it was a "contentious issue".

But he added: "The more the public, and especially schoolchildren, get to visit, understand and appreciate our countryside, the more I believe they will appreciate, support and champion our farmers."

Mr Gove hopes better access to the countryside will make people champion British farmers. Credit: ITV News

Mr Gove said the way that financial support had been provided to farmers had been far too bureaucratic, with "near-pointless" box-ticking exercises and multiple inspections, and promised simplified systems in the future.

He also said that, with food exports from the UK, from West Country Cheddar to Melton Mowbray pies, guaranteed to be high-quality and more sustainable, it would be "foolish" to lower environmental or animal welfare standards in future trade deals.

And he insisted that European producers had as much interest in securing continued tariff-free access between the UK and the EU as British farmers.