THAT WE are leaving the EU is now beyond question. Short of a cataclysmic event at Westminster, we will no longer be a member of the EU after next March, although there will be a 21 month transition period.

These are uncharted waters for the EU and the UK, and the tough line Brussels is taking makes it a lot less likely another member state will ever leave the EU.

As to whether Brexit proves a good idea, it will be years before that is clear, but there is no going back and no plan B. Brexit has to be made to work – and that is probably a bigger challenge when it comes to agriculture than for other parts of the economy, given decades of reliance on the CAP.

As we get closer to leaving the EU, it is inevitable that when things happen in Brussels, questions are prompted about what will happen in the UK. An over-arching reality is that we will lose the policy influence of the pro-agriculture EU member states, ably led by France and Ireland.

Often, the policy demands they made became CAP policy the UK had no option other than to implement, even if governments, Labour and Conservative, wanted policy to go in a different direction. This benefited farmers, insulating them from urban-focussed politicians in London. This will no longer be the case and in response, the farming lobby will have to become tougher, dealing with politicians.

The trump card of having to implement policies because they are EU-wide will be gone, and that will change the farming lobby. Its focus will be Edinburgh and Westminster. Brussels and years of involvement with COPA, as the umbrella body for European farm unions, will become largely irrelevant.

The European Commission recently announced a likely cut to CAP funding, because of the loss of UK contributions to the EU budget. That is now only of academic interest here. But a key question remains whether the planned 4% cut in direct payments after 2020 would have left farmers here better or worse off.

Equally, the Commission has promised legislation to reduce unfair trade practices (UTPs) along the food chain. By the time this is in place, Brexit will have happened. We have the Grocery Code Adjudicator, but farmers would like to see that office having more powers. A big question is whether those will be granted, so that farmers and food processors here do not lose out compared to their EU-27 counterparts.

This has taken a new twist with the potential merger of Asda and Sainsbury, with the stated aim of driving down costs, and prices for consumers.

The European parliament pressed recently for additional aid for promoting sheepmeat. This was well supported, but it remains to be seen whether the Commission will respond positively. MEPs want to see additional funding for promotion and research, to make the industry more productive. This is in line with the contents of a 2016 report into the problems in the sector – an initiative started by the farm commissioner, Phil Hogan.

MEPs are also pressing for safeguards against southern hemisphere lamb as a result of post-Brexit trade arrangements in the UK. Also on the wish list is a sheep market observatory similar to those already in place for other commodities. This may or may not happen, but again the question it raises is whether the UK will use some of funding saved from contributions to Brussels to introduce similar plans. Here and in the EU-27, the common goal needs to be help for a key industry whose economic fortunes are not as good as they need to be.

The Commission also announced recently that it would be spending €10 billion on agricultural research and innovation from 2021 to 2027. This is under its Horizon Europe framework. This raises key issues for research in the UK. That funding from the Commission will be restricted to EU-27 institutions, potentially ending years of collaborative European research with the UK that accelerated progress.

Again, the question arises as to whether the UK government will deem agriculture a funding priority for research funds. Add in everything else from product licensing to food promotion and it is clear that decisions on support and trade are just the tip of an iceberg of post-Brexit decisions that need to be made, and made quickly.