WHEN MICHAEL Gove became the Defra secretary, I wrote that this could prove a mix of good and bad news for farmers.

The good was that he had to be better than his predecessor, Andrea Leadsom, who made no impact; equally positive was that he is a skilled and effective politician, capable of delivering what he sets out to achieve.

The caveat was that he might find agriculture too politically unrewarding. That seems to be coming about, with Gove firmly engaged in the Conservative party Brexit battle, probably still with hopes of leading the party should Theresa May be toppled. The result is that while the EU-27 member states are fully engaged in the CAP reform debate, with all the expected arguments about budget cuts, we are still on the starting blocks.

We know, from Gove's early announcements, that he wants a support policy that gets funds to active farmers and rewards them for delivering 'public goods' for the environment and animal welfare. However after that initial foray into what the future might hold, and the consultation it triggered, we are none the wiser.

With less than ten months to go until Brexit that cannot be acceptable. The core issue with Brexit in agriculture and elsewhere is that the politics surrounding the negotiations have eclipsed economic realities.

Based on a report that has emerged from a group of European economists, Gove's concept of shifting support from landowners to active farmers is sound thinking. This is also a message that is being take on board for the CAP, so twenty-five plus years after it was first mooted by the then farm commissioner, Ray MacSharry, it is an idea finally set to take root and flourish. Efforts in the past to tackle the issue of so-called slipper farming have only been partly successful, but certainly in the UK there is a new determination to make progress.

This is an idea in tune with the public mood. It is partly the consequence of CAP payment details being published, which was always a blunderbuss approach to delivering transparency. It did however reveal the huge amounts in direct payments going to very large landowners, and the general public deemed that unfair and unacceptable. Size and success are not reasons to penalise a business, but that argument cannot now be easily sold to the public.

That makes the status quo unsustainable, and the political drive for change has been boosted by the European Commission's economists. They argue that with the current direct payments model, 27% of payments are capitalised into higher land rental costs. The result, they say, is that €10 billion in payments from the taxpayer fail to reach the farmers they were supposed to help. This is by no means a new finding, since the Commission's joint research centre has been highlighting it since 2013.

The case for radical change in the UK, and indeed the 14 other 'old' EU member states, is even more marked. In these countries the average 'leakage' of direct payments from farmers to landowners is put at over 40%. The UK is marginally below the average for these 15 member states.

If Gove needs a justification for radical change, to get taxpayer funds where they are intended to go, this report makes his case. It argues that the post-2020 CAP should not be about getting payments to owners of agricultural assets but directly to farmers. Gove could not have put it better himself, although it would be ironic if a Brexit advocate found himself relying on Commission economists to justify the centrepiece of his plans for farm support.

This is however what a successful Brexit has to be about. We need to take the best thinking from the EU about the need to support family farms, the need to link agriculture to the environment, and the need to justify funding by delivering high quality, affordable food. Onto that we can graft a better post-Brexit policy, built around a more global view of science and technology and a determination to have an industry no longer driven by the whims of the pressure groups knocking on doors and courting the media in Brussels.

That would reflect why many farmers voted for Brexit – not to scrap the core thinking of the CAP, but to secure a better approach. However, for now, what we all have is Westminster chaos and inaction.