AS THE government seeks to placate critics in the Conservative party over Brexit, we can expect more talk of a Brexit dividend.

This is part of a drive to persuade people that there will be gains from Brexit. It has brought a return of the pre-referendum claims of a financial dividend for the Health Service from no longer having to pay funds to Brussels.

Hopefully this will spread to other sectors. It would be encouraging if one of the architects of 'Leave', the Defra Secretary Michael Gove, would try to bring back some of the pre-referendum enthusiasm that persuaded so many farmers to vote to leave the EU.

Giving extra money to the NHS is a 'motherhood and apple pie' political issue, with which no-one could disagree. However the bill will be met mainly from additional taxes rather than any Brexit dividend. Taxes will be hard to increase, partly because the Conservative manifesto promised no increase, and partly because Brexit could, at least in the short term, slow the UK economy.

There are already suggestions that some of the NHS funds will come from a squeeze on other departments, excluding defence, education, the police and overseas aid. This leaves agriculture vulnerable.

Funding is guaranteed to be on a par with the CAP in the short term, but whatever comes to agriculture could be less long term than the CAP. This is because in the UK agriculture and food lack the influence they enjoy in key EU member states. There that influence ensures that regardless of other pressures, funds will continue to flow to farming and the CAP.

Despite that economic reality, there is still cause to be optimistic that a better agricultural policy will emerge for the UK. That has to be the outcome, since Brexit is the only show in town and has to be made to work.

It is tempting to look with some envy towards the certainties of the CAP, but as the debate in the EU-27 on its future hots up, the fundamental disagreements are becoming more evident. These reflect a north/south and east/west split, and deep divisions between the EU paymaster countries and others. Despite early general agreement, this round of CAP reform will be as bruising as any that have gone before, made all the worse this time by limitations on the budget.

This is an opportunity for the government at Westminster to prove it really does have sound ideas. It needs to show a commitment to policies that will underpin a farming industry capable of delivering for farmers, the countryside and the UK economy.

That is not an impossible dream. It is something that could be delivered, if politicians in London were ready to show some imagination and get decision making out to the devolved regions. The advantages of starting with a clean sheet to create a new support policy for a single country are flexibility, the ability to devolve decision making and the fact that, unlike with the CAP, there is no history to be taken account of in decisions.

What is really needed now is for Gove to play less leadership politics and accept instead that he can encourage Brexit by delivering a radical post-Brexit agricultural support policy. This could be built around an a la carte mix of options that farmers could select from to deliver public goods. These could be tailored to regional conditions, so that we do not end up swapping centralised Brussels control for equally remote control of decision making by London.

Gove has already shifted his position on capping aid in favour of an across the board ratcheting down of payments, with the funds released used for public goods delivery. This confirms that the government can respond to sensible ideas raised in the consultation process. That makes sense, but it is is a process that has to start with how much is going into the overall budget.

The industry needs long term income security and a real vision of how Brexit could be the foundation of a radical and better agricultural support structure. That is however only one part of the equation. We need to see support more devolved than the CAP ever was.

We also need assurances that we will be able to trade with the EU-27 on the same basis as now, whether through a customs union or a unique deal. If those are in place there really is the possibility of a Brexit dividend for agriculture.