The European Commission has fined the UK £74.5 million for the Single Farm Payments cock-up, which saw Britain fail to meet the EU’s deadline for providing subsidies for farmers. In 2005 the Rural Payments Agency was bedevilled by administrative mistakes.
Mr Parish comments:
"One again our government’s incompetence has caused British farmers and the British taxpayer to lose out.
When at Defra, Margaret Beckett introduced a hybrid system for making payments that everybody told her would lead to this calamity, yet she went ahead anyway.
Beckett’s legacy of blunders is still being felt in the countryside today, yet she still sits around the Cabinet table. That shows the level of contempt this government has for the countryside."
This is good robust stuff from Mr Parish; but could the Government be more robust still? Just imagine the following for a moment.
Gordon Brown calls a press conference and calmly announces:
"The mistakes surrounding Single Farm Payments in 2005 were deeply regrettable, and I apologise on behalf of my Government. Farmers were badly hurt by what happened. It is important now that farmers and taxpayers alike do not suffer any further, not least in light of the current economic difficulties we all face.
Consequently, I am resisting the European Commission’s demand that we pay £74.5 million. I am only too happy to discuss reform of EU farming rules, as the UK has been at an unfair disadvantage for years. What I simply will not do is allow UK taxpayers to be fleeced.
Simply put, we will not be paying a fine."
There might be, as the late Alan Clark would have put it, "a terrible fuss". And it will never actually happen, of course. But isn’t it time that we started to be a bit more assertive towards the EU? If we must remain a member – and the author’s personal view is that we should negotiate a non-exclusive free trade arrangement instead – then could we not at least start picking and choosing which bits work for us, like other countries do?!
Whitehall is far too meek in the face of pressure from the European Union. It’s time to show some muscle. We are a great nation, after all. And, when push comes to shove, the EU doesn’t want to lose the UK market.