By Martin Kelly
Withholding hundreds of millions of euros of subsidy from Scotland’s farmers is “indefensible”, Rural Affairs Secretary Richard Lochhead has told the Scottish Parliament.
The Scottish Minister spoke out after it emerged almost a quarter of a billion euros intended for Scottish farmers was to be withheld by the UK Government.
The UK Government announced on Friday that the cash, which Europe intended to benefit farmers with the lowest payment rates, would not be passed onto Scotland.
The decision means that an estimated €223 million of extra EU cash, known as the convergence uplift, would be lost to Scotland’s rural community. The money, an accumulation of payments between 2014 and 2020, is intended as compensation for Farmers in Scotland who have the lowest per hectare payments in Europe.
An angry Mr Lochhead told Holyrood MPs the decision was “indefensible” and compared it to a similar refusal to compensate Scottish sheep farmers hit by the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
“I thought former DEFRA Minister Hilary Benn’s decision not to compensate sheep farmers for foot-and-mouth was terrible, but this is worse.
“Were it not for Scotland, the rest of the UK would get nothing extra – and therefore it is only right and proper that the UK’s convergence uplift should come to Scotland.”
Mr Lochhead also revealed that had Scotland been independent the EU payment farmers would have been in line to receive would not have been 230 million euros, but a staggering one billion euros.
The decision by Westminster to withhold the cash is a snub to the Scottish Parliament after a cross party letter was sent to the UK Government in October.
Addressed to the UK Government’s Rural Affairs Secretary Owen Paterson and copied to Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, the cross-party letter followed a debate in the Scottish Parliament where MSPs agreed that the UK’s full uplift should come to Scotland in its entirety.
Mr Lochhead added: “This view received cross-party support in this Parliament in a debate last month, and the cross-party letter on this matter that was sent to the UK Government soon after.
“However, the UK Government announced last Friday that the uplift will not be allocated to Scotland. Instead, it has been divided among all parts of the UK – even though England, Wales and Northern Ireland are already above Europe’s low payment rate threshold.
“This decision goes against the intentions of the EU. It defies the wishes of this Parliament. And it takes away from Scottish farmers and crofters resources which should be theirs, and on which their livelihoods depend.
The Minister revealed that Scottish farmers had been left “bitterly disappointed” by the decision. He also called the UK Government’s arguments to defend its position “spurious”.
“Scotland’s farmers and crofters, our environment and our rural communities are worse off as a result of the UK Government’s CAP negotiations and decisions. This deeply regrettable position means we have tough decisions ahead.” he said.