The government’s plans are an improvement, but still fatally flawed. We need a proper agriculture debate
I’m a remainer, but there’s one result of Brexit I can’t wait to see: leaving the EU’s common agricultural policy. This is the farm subsidy system that spends €50bn (£44bn) a year on achieving none of its objectives. It is among the most powerful drivers of environmental destruction in the northern hemisphere. Because payments are made only for land that’s in “agricultural condition”, the system creates a perverse incentive to clear wildlife habitats, even in places unsuitable for farming, to produce the empty ground that qualifies for public money. These payments have led to the destruction of hundreds of thousands of hectares of magnificent wild places across Europe.
It is also arguably the most regressive transfer of public money in the modern world. Farmers are paid by the hectare for owning or using land; so the more you have, the more you get. While in the UK benefits for poor people are capped at £20,000 (outside London), these benefits for the rich are uncapped. Some landowners receive £1m or more. You don’t even have to live in the EU to take this money: you just have to own land here. Among the benefit tourists sucking up public funds in the age of austerity are Russian oligarchs, Saudi princes and Texas oil barons.