UK and Scottish ministers clash over post-Brexit farm 'subsidy wars'

Photo: ITV Border

The UK minister leading the talks with the Scottish government over post-Brexit powers coming back from Brussels has set his face against separate farm subsidy regimes north and south of the Border.

Damian Green, the First Secretary of State and effectively Theresa May's deputy, warned that farm "subsidy wars" would be "counterproductive" and said there should be a single market across the UK.

In response the Scottish government's 'Brexit minister' Michael Russell argued that the idea there should be a single UK-wide approach to farm support was "not borne out by the current situation".

The latest difference of opinion between the Scottish and UK governments comes against the background of SNP ministers claims of a post-Brexit "power grab" by Westminster.

UK ministers, including Mr Green who has held a series of negotiations with Mr Russell, say that at the end of the talks Holyrood will get substantial new powers currently administered by Brussels.

Mr Green made his comments in an interview with me for last night's Representing Border.

Speaking from the room in the Cabinet Office in Whitehall where the talks were held supported Scottish Secretary David Mundell's claim there would be a post-Brexit "powers bonanza" for Scotland.

But Mr Green was adamant that in terms of farm subsidies, currently set by the EU but administered separately by the Scottish government and the Westminster government, there had to be a level playing field across the UK once Britain has left the EU.

Credit: ITV Border

Nobody wants to see subsidy wars. If you had Scottish sheep farmers competing with Welsh sheep farmers - it's not just a Scotland, England thing. Obviously Wales and Northern Ireland Come into this as well.

"It would be hugely counterproductive if different parts of the UK were having subsidy wars against each other.

"In terms of agriculture we need to make sure that we have a properly integrated single market in the UK, in the interests of Scottish farmers and English farmers. and I am sure the SNP the government would recognise that."

– Damian Green,

I put it to the First Secretary that this looked like Westminster government will be controlling farming on a UK-wide basis?

But we won't. All the things that have been devolved to Scotland will be devolved in the future.

"There are a number of things where rules need to be set on a UK-wide level. This is not a power grab because they are not powers that have been exercised in Edinburgh.

"More of the powers that have been exercised in Brussels will end up in Edinburgh when we get to the end of this process."

– Damian Green,

So will farm subsidies be determined in Scotland?

It's not been determined in Scotland in the past. It's determined at a Brussels level.

– Damian Green,

But Scotland administers the system now? Mr Green's response:

"Of course they administer it, and they will continue to administer it, just as they administer parts of the welfare system and will in the end get more powers for welfare."

– Damian Green,

Commenting on Mr Green's remarks, Michael Russell, the Scottish government minister for UK Negotiations on Scotland’s Place said:

“We have made it very clear that the EU Withdrawal Bill as drafted is indeed a power grab, and we will not recommend its approval by the Scottish Parliament as it stands.

“That position has widespread support across Scotland, including from independent observers such as the Law Society of Scotland. And only this week, the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation has added its voice to those calling for the Bill to be amended so that it respects the founding principles of devolution.

“The idea that there must be a single approach to the diverse needs and interests of farmers in the UK is not borne out by the current situation, whereby Scottish farmers have some of the lowest hectare payments in the EU. If needs and interests were indeed uniform, we would not be having to battle the UK Government to give Scottish farmers and crofters the £160 million they are owed in convergence funding.”

– Michael Russell, the Scottish government minister for UK Negotiations

You can see my interview with Damian Green here: