BREXIT and departure from the CAP is now a matter of time. The debate is no longer whether, but how it will happen.

That makes the latest CAP statistics from the European Commission akin to looking through an album of photographs of a past love after you have agreed to go your separate ways. You have to tell yourself you had some great times, but that the decision to move on is now inevitable.

The figures cover 2017 and as with all statistics, they come with the warning about there being lies, damned lies and statistics. They do however underline how important the CAP and direct payments in particular are across all 28 EU member states. In 2017, 6.4 million farmers claimed direct payments. That represents 60% of farms.

When it comes to land, 86% of agricultural land was supported by direct payments. This varied between member states, but interestingly the figure for Germany, as one of the biggest beneficiaries of CAP spending, was 100%. At 81%, the UK figure was below the average, reflecting non-CAP supported enterprises. In Ireland the figure was 98%.

Even if the UK figure is below the EU average, that is still a lot of land that will need to be supported through a post-Brexit programme. The government's preferred option seems to be a payment for environmental delivery, while the EU for now is still going down a less rigorous road for direct payments after 2020. In short the EU will continue to pay lip service to environmental delivery, almost certainly with a lighter touch regulatory structure than is likely to emerge in the UK.

What must be pressed hard with the government is the reality that the 81% of land supported through direct payments means post-Brexit support is not an optional extra or temporary measure. It is something that will be needed on an ongoing basis if the UK wants to maintain a farming industry and low food prices. The mistake for years in just about every country has been referring to these as 'farm subsidies;' when in reality they are a way to subsidise the price at which consumers buy food of the highest quality. This is an equation that could break down if the government presses ahead with plans to dismantle tariffs on food imports in the hope that this will help it buy desperately needed trade deals.

As to the money, the figures confirm big differences between member states. This reflects different economic and agricultural structures, but they also bolster the case for the gap between payments to be narrowed. This is an argument the UK is best away from, since it could have lost out in any reallocation. The average CAP payment per farm across the EU was just under €6800 in 2017. But when it comes to per hectare amounts there was a huge variation and some big statistical anomalies because of farm structures. The bottom line is that the Baltic states are by far the worst off, justifying their demand for convergence, while Greece and Malta fared best.

The big CAP beneficiaries however did well, with France averaging €308 per hectare and Germany €310. This underlines the strength of the Franco/German alliance and while they might pay lip service to CAP reform and greening, both know CAP funding underpins their rural economies. The other staunch advocate of the CAP, Ireland, also did well at €325 per hectare, as did Austria at €423 and Italy at €416. The average UK figure was €239.

Regardless of how these numbers are crunched, there is no escaping the fact that the CAP supports farming in every member state. That €239 per hectare for the UK has to be the starting point for the government's new support plan and it must not be allowed to escape that reality.

The EU uses a labour unit style of calculation for farm incomes. Across the EU the average contribution to this figure from direct payments is traditionally around a quarter. This was again the case in 2017, when the figure was 24%. In this area the UK finally managed to secure parity with France and Germany, with a figure of 27%. On that positive note we can close the album, forget what was and hope that with the new love Boris Johnson wants to introduce us to, we can have even better times.