What a difference a change of ministerial portfolio makes! Back in 2006, Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State for International Development, was strident in his criticisms of the CAP:
“Through the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), two fifths of the EU budget goes on subsidies and support to Europe’s farmers who represent 5% of Europe’s population, and produce less than 2% of Europe’s output. Most is not spent in the poorer parts of Europe where it is needed. Most goes to the biggest farming companies and landowners, not small farmers.”
Times change, Prime Ministers come and go, and Hilary Benn is now Secretary of State at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In this post he is spearheading the UK Government’s fight to ensure that massive CAP ‘income support’ payments continue to be paid to Europe’s biggest farming companies and landowners.
So far it looks as if it has been successful in facing down a proposal from the European Commission to redistribute subsidy money from farmers receiving more than €300,000 a year in favour of – wait for it! – smaller farmers and the poorer parts of Europe where it is needed. Benn’s deputy Jeff Rooker recently reaffirmed the government’s opposition to payment limits to the UK Parliament:
“We have opposed such limits when they have been proposed in the past on the grounds that they would distort the industry by discouraging the adoption of sensible, market-based, business models and prove administratively burdensome for farmers.”
There is no denying that the likes of the Duke of Westminster, the Duchess of Alba and Johannes Adam Ferdinand Alois Josef Maria Marko d’Aviano Pius von und zu Liechtenstein (aka the Crown Prince of Liechtenstein) would find it just terribly burdensome to have their six and seven-figure EU handouts scaled back.
Speaking at the National Farmers’ Union annual conference earlier this week, Benn assured the audience that not only was he “alive” to farmers’ concerns about limiting big subsidy payments, but that he “shared them”.
Now it couldn’t be that Benn junior is concerned about the farm subsidies that keep his father, the retired left-wing politician Tony Benn, in pipe tobacco, could it? Tony Benn’s country seat is Stansgate Abbey Farm, on the Essex coast (see satellite picture below). Unfortunately, no one over at farmsubisdy.org has been able to pinpoint the farm payments Stansgate Abbey Farm receives. Of course Tony Benn is a strong critic of the EU. Perhaps he is not claiming EU farm subsidies as a matter of principle. Perhaps Stansgate Abbey Farm is not a farm at all. Can the readers of this blog shed some light on the matter?