When the CAP reform talks resume this autumn, the UK will be represented by former Northern Ireland secretary of state Owen Paterson. The Shropshire MP takes up his new post at the head of DEFRA just in time to relearn everything he ever knew about the CAP during his time as a Tory shadow minister for agriculture on the opposition benches of the House of Commons.
His entry on the DEFRA webpage says that in addition to taking overall responsibility for departmental policy, his fministerial brief contains a: “…particular interest in CAP reform, biodiversity and climate change.” The MP for North Shropshire speaks French and German, as well doing a stint in the family leather business, which included a term as president of the European tanning association COTANCE.
His predecessor Caroline Spelman had extensive experience of working for the National Farmers’ Union and held a senior post with the Confederation of European Beetgrowers in Paris during the late 1980s. The new UK cabinet line-up lacks such seasoned European awareness and spreads its talent thinly.
While the farming element of DEFRA’s work is now covered by the secretary of state directly, the departmental ethos appears to be largely untouched. For instance, presenting itself online, DEFRA’s website uses the term “corporate” in the URL for the “About DEFRA” page instead of, say, “ministry.”
Writing on his website, Paterson explains that he: “believes that taxation and bureaucracy should be minimised to give people the best chance to exercise their talents.” If this sounds familiar, remember that former Thatcher adviser Oliver Letwin is still in the Cabinet Office and still has European enabling legislation on the “Red Tape Challenge” hitlist.