The Welsh government has accused Westminster of short-changing its farmers and rural communities by £137m and reneging on a promise to keep farm funding at the same level as before Brexit.
Lesley Griffiths, environment minister in the Welsh administration, said the farm funding for Wales set out in the spending review was about 35 per cent less than expected, calling it “a betrayal of rural Wales”. The funds amount to £240m for farms and £2m for fisheries for 2021-22.
“The UK government committed in their manifesto to fully replace the funding that Wales previously received from the EU to support farming,” the Labour politician said. “It’s clear this announcement falls woefully short of that promise and disproportionately impacts on Wales.”
The accusation touches on a key post-Brexit flashpoint, as farmers across the UK watch anxiously to see whether ministers keen to end EU-style payments will adhere to pledges that rural businesses would not overall be worse off. English farmers are awaiting an announcement early next week of how their own funding will be structured from 2022.
A Treasury spokesperson said: “We have not broken any promises. Today’s £240m announcement delivers on our commitment to maintain the funding that farmers and land managers in Wales received in 2019.”
Welsh farming groups believe their £242m allocation from Westminster reflects sums formerly paid out under the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, but not the total funds available in that year, since a significant proportion of the money was unspent and effectively kept for future years — as is allowed under EU funding rules.
They argue that arriving at an equivalent figure for total funding requires averaging out available EU funds over several years, rather than taking a snapshot of a single year which does not include significant unspent funds.
Following the spending review, the Welsh government will decide how to allocate its rural funding, which must cover environmental, community, forestry and other projects as well as direct payments to farmers.
The National Farmers’ Union of Cymru said the Treasury figure raised the prospect of lower payments to farmers already facing potential Brexit trade disruption. “We are facing financial pressure like we’ve never faced before,” said John Davies, president of NFU Cymru.
Basic payments, the main form of subsidy, make up 84 per cent of farm income at the typical Welsh farm, according to official figures. Beef and sheep farms are especially dependent on the payments.
Sheep farmers are also in line for the most severe impact if the UK does not conclude a trade deal with the EU because about a third of their meat is exported to the continent. Wales accounts for a third of UK sheep farming.
The devolved governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland wrote to the environment secretary, George Eustice, ahead of Wednesday’s Spending Review, urging him to ensure agricultural budgets would be maintained.
Ms Griffiths said: “We have repeatedly expressed our views to HM Treasury and have been met with silence.”
Calculations by the Farmers’ Union of Wales put the average EU funding for Welsh farms and rural areas at about £340m a year over the past six years, slightly lower than the government’s figure.
Glyn Roberts, president of the FUW, said the lower funding would “come at a time when the industry is already anticipating major problems due to non-tariff barriers, unfair competition from substandard imports and the possibility of massive EU tariff barriers in the event of a no-deal Brexit”.