Brexit reverts numerous powers back to the UK and its devolved administrations of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In the context of agriculture, leaving the EU also means leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), bringing both the challenge and opportunity to design new agricultural policies. Public rhetoric in the UK during the Brexit process has encompassed the mantra ‘taking back control’, along with various proposals of regulatory bonfires, a Green Brexit and being environmentally ‘world-leading’, indicating that the UK and devolved administrations would jump at the opportunity to design ambitiouspolicies tailored to their own contexts. But the reality has proven far different for each of the four nations’ policy proposals to date.
This paper examines how the current proposals are a result of path dependency, in light of external and internal relationships, policies and practices. Various factors include earlier rhetoric (including criticism of the CAP), WTO membership, financing relationships and practices, current farming practices, supply chains, markets etc. This has led to the proposals remaining largely similar to each other and also clearly influenced by the CAP, with two common prongs of ‘public money for public [environmental] goods’ and productivity. It is arguable that it is also the reason for the hesitancy by the devolveds in finalising their own policies – including the temporary retraction by Wales of their proposals.
Whilst path dependency is understandable and these factors will continue to impact on the agricultural (and related) policies, such outcomes are not desirable or indeed viable in the long-term – as the resulting policies are flawed. Realisation of these flaws may help incentivise the UK and the devolved administrations to look beyond the status quo and examine other, more ambitious options. Considerations of legal and practical parameters further help identify alternative pathways that are tailored more effectively to the four nations.
This paper is based on a forthcoming book co-written by Petetin and Dobbs entitled ‘Brexit and Agriculture’ to be published by Routledge in 2021.