UKIP’s plans for taking UK farming out of Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the European Union are “unrealistic and uncosted” – according to CLA Deputy President Ross Murray.
The future development of the countryside was top of the agenda with debates between political and industry leaders at the CLA Game Fair at Blenheim Palace.
Mr Murray clashed with UKIP leader Nigel Farage during a debate on the first day of the CLA Game Fair at Blenheim Palace, accusing him of promoting a “little England” approach to support which lacked logic.
The debate titled The countryside would be better off if we left the EU saw the two lock horns over the issue of restricting payments to farms over a certain size. “There is no logic to capping,” he said. “We have the most efficient farming industry in Europe and part of that comes with scale.”
It would, he said, be madness to bolt from Europe and Britain needed to stick with the European Union – but should seek to reform its ways of operating.
Mr Murray told an audience of more than 300 people packed into and around the Game Fair Theatre the argument that British farmers could survive without support from Europe is a fallacy. “If we opt out of the EU our exports will be cut to shreds and we will be completely at the mercy of the supermarkets who will always buy on price. Quite simply, we will not be able to compete against other farmers in Europe who will still be receiving public funds.”
The value of being in Europe, he said, amounted to 25 billion Euros over the next seven years which came, not just in the form of direct payments to farming, but also as investment in the wider rural economy. He said: “All power to the Government if they can reform the EU – that would have my total support – but my head tells me that we are better off sticking with a European framework of support for the countryside – at least for the time being.”
However he did not let the Government off lightly, questioning whether we could ever totally rely on a UK Government to support the countryside saying:”We countrymen have to look after ourselves and be grateful for the support that membership of the EU brings to our businesses.”
The UKIP leader said: “We should run our own country and run our own agriculture; there will be a referendum in the next few years and you’ll have your say in it.
“The effects of leaving the EU in the short term would be negligible, but in the long term there is a big benefit to us being outside the EU. We can get the Great British public onside and interested in farming and understand what we are doing – currently the debate on agriculture has reached an all-time low.”
The debate was chaired by Charlie Brooks and also featured the Chairman of the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust Ian Coghill, and former Telegraph countryside reporter Robin Page.
Mr Coghill summed up the debate saying there was no “perfect method” of governance, but that we needed to make the most of what we’ve got.
“Is the EU bad for the countryside? Yes. But you can substitute any government for the EU and the answer would still be the same,” he said.