MSP Fergus Ewing has accused the UK government of stealing money meant for Scottish farmers in a row over EU payments.
Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing – the MSP for Inverness and Nairn – has called on Westminster to return £160 million in common agricultural policy (Cap) payments to Scotland, saying the money was only paid by the EU as Scotland qualified for the subsidies.
Despite this, the department for environment, food and rural affairs (Defra) chose to divide the funds between England, Wales and Northern Ireland, when it was released in 2013.
In a statement to the Scottish Parliament, Mr Ewing said Scottish farmers have only received around 16 per cent of what they are entitled to in what he branded the “great rural robbery”.
“Scottish farmers are still owed around £160 million in Cap funding that the UK government has thus far failed to release or even acknowledge,” he said.
“Every other country in the UK was above the threshold – that means the UK would not have received 1p extra had it not been for Scotland and yet the UK government of the time decided not to pass all of the money to Scotland where it was earned.
“The EU clearly intended this extra money to go to those farmers who received the least but this purpose was subverted by the UK government who held on to the money simply because they had the power to do so.
“Wrongly holding on to someone else’s property is well recognised in criminal law.
“In this case the holding of funds could be done simply because the UK as member state receives the money and has complete control on how it is allocated.
“You could say this is the great rural robbery.”
This comes as the Scottish Government faces penalties from the EU for failing to make Cap payments to farmers on time.
Nobody from Defra was available for comment but it is thought environment, food and rural affairs secretary Michael Gove will agree a review into how the money is distributed.
It is thought the money could equate to an extra £14,000 each for farmers.
Highlands and Islands Conservative MSP Edward Mountain, a partner in a farming business, said the Tories agree that the money should go to Scotland.
“We are actively working on that,” he said.
“Can you confirm that this money will be paid directly to farmers, without siphon and not delayed by an incompetent computer system?”
Mr Ewing agreed that “of course” it must go to the farmers.