IT IS becoming increasingly difficult to forecast what will happen after Brexit. Politics within the Westminster bubble are now driving the debate, and as positions become more extreme, it is difficult to see where scope for compromise lies.

In this atmosphere, agriculture is not even on the radar. The person responsible, Michael Gove at Defra, has been saying plenty about Brexit. But with his eye, no doubt, still on the Prime Minister’s job, he seems to have lost focus.

That needs to be on delivering a Brexit outcome for agriculture that will convince the majority of farmers that Brexit can deliver a better future than sticking with the CAP and direct payments.

The problems now are on many fronts. The Irish border question could yet force some form of EU/UK association. This seems to be an untried position short of a customs union but more than a negotiated trade deal. This would restrict the UK’s freedom to trade with the rest of the world outside trade deals in place for the EU.

For agriculture, this might well be a good outcome. However the decision will have nothing to do with good or bad economic fortune. It will be driven by politics and the battle over Europe within the Cabinet and Conservative party.

There is another danger in this for farmers. As things stand, the guarantee on support is that it will continue for the lifetime of this parliament, which should be until 2022. However the government is on a knife edge and depends on support from Northern Ireland’s DUP at Westminster. They have threatened to withdraw that, over any customs union arrangement that separates Northern Ireland from normal UK trading.

If a general election were triggered by a no confidence vote there will be no guarantee about farm support continuing. The result for agriculture would be even greater uncertainty and the whole Brexit decision-making process would be thrown into even worse chaos.

If there are no decisions for agriculture from London, there can be no decisions in Edinburgh and that is unacceptable. MPs on committees at Westminster seems to be spending a lot of time looking at options.

We saw the suggestion this week from yet another academic that there should be a basic income support payment for every farmer, with bonus payments for doing additional things. This is the same as has now been suggested for the CAP by the farm commissioner, Phil Hogan – the difference being that the Brussels version has political weight behind it, while the UK is still at the debate stage.

Against this background, farmers need to be setting priorities, and making clear that they expect politicians in Scotland to support them. This is their role for constituents and they cannot allow the most crucial debate in agriculture for a generation to be hijacked by internal dissension within the Conservative party.

The first priority for farmers is a support system that will ensure those producing food, as opposed to public goods, are not discriminated against, compared to their competitors in the EU-27 and beyond. The industry then needs assurances about trade. It needs to see firm evidence that, regardless of politics, the government is pulling out all the stops to ensure we have continued access to what are now, and will remain, our key markets.

This might run counter to pursuing global markets and it is certainly not about using tariff free food imports as a loss leader to buy deals. Support and trade would be a firm foundation on which all other issues, including food promotion, can be built. Without that sound foundation agriculture will be at risk. Politicians need to accept this is more important than party politics in London.

As to regulation, ideas like celebrity endorsed and council enforced ‘meat free Mondays’ highlighted in The Scottish Farmer last week are not ideas conjured up in Brussels, but a lot closer to home. The European Commission has for years been the scapegoat over regulation, but the mindset that brings excessive regulation comes not from Brussels, but our own risk averse civil service.

That culture needs to change, and it is up to politicians to make that happen if those who voted for Brexit to escape regulations are not to end up with more, not less. It is late in the day to be setting priorities, but it is even later for the government not to have a plan in place for Brexit capable of securing support from other member states.