The Queen earns millions from farm subsidies from the European Union
Farming Minister George Eustice made the pledge as the Conservatives look at ways to shed their image as the party of money and privilege.
Under the EU’s bumper £51billion per year (€58 billion) farm subsidy scheme, Britain’s royal family and a host of wealthy aristocrats are prime beneficiaries of largesse from the Brussels budget.
An investigation by Greenpeace revealed that at least one in five of the top 100 recipients of the EU’s common agricultural policy (CAP) subsidies in the last year were farm businesses owned or controlled by members of aristocratic families.
These include the Duke of Westminster, the Duke of Northumberland, Sir Richard Sutton, the Earl of Moray, Baron Phillimore and family, and the Earl of Plymouth.
Household goods billionaire Sir James Dyson – who campaigned for Brexit – is also in the top 100.
Reducing subsidies to large estates would constitute a revolutionary shift from the principles of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, under which the majority of payments are based on acreage.
Around 80 per cent of European funds are paid to just 20 per cent of farms – a distribution system described by Mr Eustice as “unfair”.
He stressed, however, that any changes to the system would not take place until a new model came into effect in 2025.
Queen Elizabeth II in pictures Thu, May 25, 2017
Queen Elizabeth II making her Royal visits in her many colourful and elegant outfits.
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Britain's Queen Elizabeth visits the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital in Manchester
Mr Eustice, minister of state at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said: “I don’t think many people could defend the notion of an area-based subsidy system staying in place for perpetuity.
“It’s a little bit upside down because it means the largest payments go to the largest landowners who arguably need it the least.”
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The CAP system has been widely criticised for sidelining small holdings whose farmers desperately need to boost their incomes.
Critics say the inequality contributes to a growing number of farms being forced out of business.
The subsidy scheme has been labelled unfair and has forced small farms out of business
According to Mr Eustice, a new program in the UK would reverse this trend but shifting the focus to smaller farms.
He said: “The farms that are most reliant on it [subsidies] tend to be some of your smaller family farms, particularly in the upland areas, particularly those in beef and sheep.”
Speaking to Politico he said implementing a new agricultural subsidy system after Brexit would initially entail reducing payments “for the very, very large landowners and holdings”.
He added: “The evidence is that they are best able to withstand it and certainly if you look at the big agri-businesses, particularly those in the veg sector. The truth is that although they receive quite large single farm payments, it’s largely irrelevant to their business model.”
A new system may come into effect in 2025
To help farmers transition into a new system, direct payments will be gradually phased out — likely by 2025 — with capped payments and simpler rules than those for the program administered by Brussels.
In the party manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to commit the same cash for farm support until the end of the next parliament in 2022.
However, after that date, “a new agri-environment system” will be introduced to “set up new frameworks for supporting food production and stewardship of the countryside.”
Mr Eustice explained: “Those who need [subsidies] most tend only to get enough to keep their nose above the water.
“What we really need to be doing is thinking about how we can use that budget … to switch the emphasis of it so that it is improving the profitability of farms.”