The Prime Minister announced today that she would invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29th. At the time I was discussing the impact of the UK leaving the EU with Welsh farming leaders at Dolgellau. It was a meeting of the Welsh Affairs Committee of the House of Commons, of which I am a member. Only four of us travelled to Meirionydd, Plaid Cymru's Liz Saville Roberts, Lib Dem Mark Williams and two Tories, David Davies and me. The structure of the meeting was that MPs asked the questions and the panel of farming leaders responded. It's not the only meeting on this issue that we have held. Our aim is to produce a report which will be made public, and hopefully debated in Parliament in a few weeks time.
Agriculture is an important industry in rural Wales, probably more so than in any other part of the UK. It's an industry very reliant on the Common Agriculture Policy (CAP). While the individual farm payments underpin many farms in rural Wales, it is unfair on those who do not receive the same financial support, and it tends to stifle innovation. Inevitably, those representing the industry will seek vigorously to defend the status quo. Instinctively, I feel the same. After all, am still involved in farming myself!
A major issue to be decided is how EU responsibilities for agriculture policy will be devolved. The devolved governments think everything should be devolved, while I can see all might not agree. It's crucial that we do not create a system where one part of the UK should adopt policies which completely shaft the others. The example I used yesterday was to ask what if the Scottish Govt doubled the suckler cow premium, rendering the keeping of suckler cows unviable in Wales. It was just a theoretical example of "What if". There will be much discussion of this when the Great Repeal Bill is published.
The issue of greatest concern is the potential imposition of tariffs on UK/EU trade in lamb (and to some extent beef). Wales needs to export our lamb to EU, and we need to protect our beef market from being undercut by beef imported at a lower standard of regulated safety and hygiene than applies to home producers. Another area for important debate. In my view the most important issue for Welsh farming. I was interested to hear both Welsh farming unions see Australian exports of lamb as more of a threat to Wales than those from New Zealand. I hadn't thought of that. For me the discussion, albeit very early in the debate on us leaving the EU was helpful, informative and not as negative as I expected.