DEFRA'S plan to 'sweep away' 40 years of the Common Agricultural Policy in the UK will pass into law this Spring.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference, Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers confirmed that the UK Government’s 'landmark' Agriculture Bill will be introduced to Westminster this month, with the aim of it being finalised by May at the latest.

Ms Villiers used the occasion to insist that the new policy would meet the challenge of delivering the greater environmental protection, climate change action and animal welfare demanded by the public, whilst also improving the productivity and profitability of farm businesses, protecting food security and enabling the UK to strike new international trade deals.

She was at pains to reassure the farming audience that the new policy would give them unprecedented choice over how it would apply to their businesses, with Defra keen to use 'local knowledge' to ensure that farm businesses could thrive, feed the nation and contribute to net zero carbon targets.

"This a government which will always back Britain's farmers," declared Ms Villiers, who said that the recent planning for the possibility of a 'no deal' exit from the European Union had provided a timely reminder of the importance of domestic food production. So much so that the agriculture Bill about to be laid before Parliament had been augmented with additions specifically related to food security.

She was also adamant that the UK's current high standards of food safety and animal welfare would be protected in the imminent negotiations towards trade deals outwith the EU: "Please be reassured, as our manifesto says, as the Prime Minister says, we will not imperil out international reputation. The high standards of British farming are the backbone of our biggest manufacturing sector, food and drink. We will not dilute food safety or animal welfare. In negotiations, we will walk away if our standards are undermined, absolutely."

However, asked for a show of hands over their faith that Boris Johnson's government would not sacrifice domestic food standards to seal international trade deals, the OFC audience signalled that this was one political promise that they would not believe until it was delivered.

In England, there will now be a seven-year transition period, during which time Direct Payments will be phased out, to be replaced by an Environmental Land Management scheme.

Questioned by Scottish Land and Estates' Eleanor Kay about agri-policy divergence between the UK home nations, Ms Villiers noted that there would be 'big constitutional implications' in attaching any strings to devolved farm support money.

"What we will have to grapple with is that trade policy is reserved to Westminster, but agricultural policy is devolved," she said. "We are going to have to work closely with the devolved administrations to make that work in practice."

On continuing support for farmers in areas where agriculture would otherwise be unprofitable, she noted that more or less all developed economies around the world found a way to support food production in remote regions without falling foul of WTO rules, and the UK would be no different.