I hadn’t realised, until I received a Labour Party press release, that Michael Gove murders badgers. I don’t mean that he goes out at night with a shovel and strangles them with his bare hands (I do doubt it), or that he sends his terrier of a wife, Sarah Vine, to invade their setts and sink her fangs into them, like she does with fat celebrities, anti-Brexit “luvvies” and fake beggars.
No. He gets his “experts” to do it.
According to David Drew MP, Labour’s shadow minister for environment, food and rural affairs: “This is a secretary of state who has ordered the culling of the highest number of badgers on record and is even rolling out the cull in areas defined as low risk.”
Dreadful. Drew wants Gove to stop, and I tend to agree with him. However, I have an even better idea. He could, and should, give the countryside back to the badgers, and all the other creatures we have evicted from it. They would be free to gambol across the glades and copses that would once again dominate our landscape. Pretty as our countryside may be, or parts of it, it really is nothing to do with nature. It is man-made, and can be man unmade. Now is the moment.
Yes. I’m talking about delivering a Wild Brexit.
You see, the man Boris Johnson used to call “The Govemeister” is planning a “Green Brexit”. Sounds OK, and has received some cautious support from the environmentalists (as opposed to the mentalists he used to hang out with at Vote Leave). But this is far too timid, and indeed, far less radical than it sounds.
Yes, according to the Agriculture Bill, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy will be no more, and farmers will no longer be paid to produce more and more stuff that the market may or may not want. Instead, they will be given money when they sign environmental land management contracts, promising to promote wildlife, prevent pollution and look after the environment generally.
But, I have to ask, why pay them anything?
There is nothing, in principle, to stop vastly wealthy landowners still getting extravagant sums from poorer, hard-pressed taxpayers, only in future for less work. “Managing” the land will usually be lighter work than rearing livestock or harvesting crops. I suspect the new Defra contracts will be difficult to police.
We could, instead, allow Mother Nature to do her lovely work – and entirely free of charge. We could restore market forces to agriculture – a free-trade approach I thought the Conservative Brexiteers instinctively favoured.
There will be downsides, and joking aside, much misery. Some farmers would go out of business, but then there will be many jobs lost in the post-Brexit adjustment – in car factories, in investment banks, in offices and across commerce and industry. Families, rich and poor, will suffer. I fail to see why the farmers should receive special exemption.
These days we have sophisticated financial institutions that can help farms manage the natural ups and downs that the weather and disease bring, smoothing out the boom-and-bust nature of their business. Taxpayer subsidies are unnecessary.
After all, as Jacob Rees-Mogg points out, and indeed Gove’s own Vote Leave campaign did too, Brexit should mean cheaper food sourced form world markets.
If, then, we can get perfectly good quality grain from America and Canada, then we should use that to make bread. If New Zealand lamb is cheaper than the Welsh alternative and people prefer it, then why restrict consumer choice? And, speaking for myself, if I am happy to eat a chlorinated chicken, as millions of Americans do, with no ill-effects, then I should have the freedom to order it at a KFC. It would not be compulsory; you will still be able to buy your organic, free-range, rare breed Duchy Original bird if you fancy one. You can go vegan if you like. It’s all about choice, and keeping prices down.
By the way, one reason I suspect Gove may want to end the live export of animals post-Brexit is that it may be the only way some British livestock farmers can stay in business – but it is cruel, and the wrong answer to the issue.
It may be that some farmers would turn to selling land for development – to build much needed houses. That would reduce house prices. Is that not a laudable goal, and part of dealing with housing crisis? We will not need a green belt in a re-wilded Britain.
Uncharacteristically, for all his talk of a Green Brexit, Gove seems unwilling to take on his latest interest group – farmers and landowners. They are, I suppose, well represented in Conservative circles, and well-connected too – rich, aristocratic, went to the same schools as top Tories, that sort of thing. Maybe that has diluted his usual Thatcherite zeal.
I can’t help recalling that Gove showed no such hesitation in taking on the education establishment in his first cabinet role – “the blob” as it was known – and pushing through valuable and overdue reforms. He showed the same game nature when confronted with the legal establishment as justice secretary, though he wasn’t there long enough properly to lay into them. Now he has his chance to submit British agriculture to market forces, restore degraded landscapes to their natural state, and save the exchequer some money, too. He will leave his mark on the face of the British countryside: paradise regained.
The Independent has launched its #FinalSay campaign to demand that voters are given a voice on the final Brexit deal.