THE BLOG

Brexit Is Not the Answer for Floods or Farmers

08/01/2016 10:02 GMT | Updated 07/01/2017 10:12 GMT

Former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has a habit of finding others to blame for Government failures. He notoriously accused the badgers of 'moving the goalposts' to excuse the badger cull shambles under his watch. Now he seems to be saying that Britain's membership of the European Union is to blame for the floods.

Last month's floods in Cumbria and Lancashire cost farmers and rural businesses an estimated £20 million. And the costs of the Christmas flooding in Lancashire and Yorkshire are still being counted.

As climate change worsens, the risks of flooding increase. Periods of intense rainfall could increase in frequency by a factor of five this century.

Rather than acknowledge this, Brexit campaigners like Owen Paterson choose to ignore it and to peddle EU myths again. This issue is far more complex than he seems able to grasp. But then, who can take seriously anything said by a climate change denier, who, as Environment Secretary, removed flooding from the Environment Department's priorities.

It is complacent to suggest that more dredging is all that is needed. Owen Paterson, the soi-disant saviour of Somerset, seems to think the area is no longer at risk. Local residents will no doubt be paying more attention to the Environment Agency, which only this morning had 3 flood warnings and 19 alerts in place for Somerset.

We do need to look at ways in which we can work better with farmers and land owners to achieve flooding resilience objectives. Clearly, what has been done so far is not enough. As the NFU has said, services provided by farmers which protect urban areas downstream are at present "unrewarded and often unplanned".

The Environment Agency has said the UK needs a complete rethink of flood defences. And this must include better management of river catchments, from land use in our upstream areas, to estuaries and lowland areas.

Owen Paterson also ignores the benefits that EU membership brings to British farmers, with nearly two-thirds of our agricultural exports going to the EU and EU subsidies providing 50-60% of UK farm incomes. Liz Truss confirmed at the Oxford Farming Conference this week that Defra has no Plan B for protecting farmers if the UK were to vote to leave the EU.

We need to listen to the experts, not those with an extreme political view, for ways to protect our country from flooding.