My MP is keen that we should vote to leave the EU. He replied to me in a letter ‘This means that we currently send £50 million a day to the European union. If the UK was not in the EU, we could spend this money on farming and our public services, as we see fit, rather than unelected Brussels bureaucrats.‘
Well let’s just pass over the fact that we wouldn’t want bureaucrats to be elected – that’s why we have politicians. Why would you want the civil service to be elected? And we’ll pass over the fact that ‘our’ money goes to other people in the EU, ideally the more needy, and not primarily to the EU civil service. And let’s just pass over the fact that we are one of the richest countries in the EU and the whole point of being in a bigger group is that the rich pay more for the privilege than the poor – not something that I would necessarily expect my Conservative MP to have fully internalised.
But the idea that we would spend more of ‘our’ money on farming is a very odd one.
I was talking to another of Mr Pursglove’s constituents a while ago – a farmer – who told me that he would definitely be voting to Remain in the EU and not to Leave. His reason? ‘I don’t trust British governments but I know the French and German governments will be fighting for farmers in the EU even if the UK might not.‘.
He’s right. if the UK left the EU I’m sure that we would see a rapid and inexorable erosion of farm payments as the urban voters asked for their money back.
It’s easy for farming to hide behind the EU at the moment, and easy for the UK government too – but we basically have a system where rich and poor townies transfer money to rich and poor farmers, and there aren’t many farmers in the electorate, and there are more poor people than rich people, and so if we put it to the vote then the poor townies outvote the rich and poor farmers (and it’s so foolish of ‘real country people’ to slag off the ‘townies’ who pay their single farm payments). If farmers were the least bit serious about leaving the EU then they ought to start sucking up to the rest of us right now – we hold the purse strings Mr Pursglove.
Since agricultural payments are mostly just unencumbered income support for farmers, including the Duke of Westminster and the National Trust, any government having to defend them itself would struggle. We could increase income support to the Duke of Westminster and the National Trust, but I’m guessing that we wouldn’t.
We could do many brilliant things if we left the EU – but I’m betting on the fact that we wouldn’t – instead George Osborne, Owen Paterson, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson would do some foolish things.