Perhaps I should begin by saying that I write as one of those who has been told that they are unlikely to receive their BPS payment before the end of January 2016! However, since I have no idea whether the reasons for this are to be found in Brussels or London I do not think I will let it influence what follows!
This is a mixture of the practical, the narrowly political and the moral: a difficult mix for Christian discernment. As the NFU has pointed out in its paper ‘UK Farming’s relationship with the EU’ the EU was founded to keep the peace in Europe. It was never conceived as being purely about markets and trade. More recently, it has played a major part in helping the countries of Eastern Europe, newly released from the Soviet empire, to return to orderly and democratic government re-integrated into Europe. Clearly in judging Britain’s relationship these wider issues need to be remembered.
However, even at a purely farming level the issues are major. At present, all financial support to UK farming is derived from Europe. This touches us all as individuals very practically! But it is also a wider issue. Broadly speaking total EU support and total UK net farm income are similar, or the same. An end to farm income raises questions of hardship and food supply with issues of wisdom or folly. Those advocating UK exit from the EU need to be pressed very hard on what they intend for farming. Even if reassuring answers are forthcoming we need to consider what would actually happen. If there were to be a new system of support would there be an interim period of chaos. Historically the record is not encouraging. BSE began here, Foot and Mouth disease ran riot in 2001, in 2005 the CAP Reform was messed up in the UK, a Government facility caused Foot & Mouth outbreak in 2007 and Bovine TB is not under control. Would the introduction of a new farm support system work any better? It also has to be asked whether the UK political establishment really minds whether food is produced here, or merely imported.
These are serious issues with major implications both for farming and food supply and for our relations with our neighbours.