When Minette Batters stood on the NFU conference platform last week and declared that throwing our world leading welfare standards on the funeral pyre of global trade would be ’morally bankrupt’ and ’insane’, she meant it as an admonishing challenge to Government, not as something to aspire to in wider policy construction.
The problem this week is that, judging by leaked emails from Treasury adviser Tim Leunig, those words have not been interpreted with the chastising overtones intended, but have been seized as a central tenet of the Government’s approach to agriculture.
Let us be clear, Dr Leunig’s comments, splashed across the front of the Mail on Sunday under the headline ’Britain doesn’t need farmers’, are nothing short of morally bankrupt, bordering on the insane. And while the headline might have sparked alarm within rural communities across the UK, the bigger challenge for our industry is the potentially slow creep of influence such distorted thinking could have on those in power.
In this new post-EU era, agricultural policy is being reshaped and the view of farmers clearly re-imagined by some within Government.
While it might be hard to believe that Dr Leunig’s claims about importing most of our food will find widespread support within Government, there must be huge concern about what influence his disregard for the industry has on those around him.
What Brexit has done is open a Pandora’s Box when it comes to the rules and regulations governing our industry and, no longer protected by the Common Agricultural Policy, these are now open to influence from the likes of Dr Leunig.
Therefore, if there is no respect among policymakers for food production and a belief that farmers should be left to the whims of a dysfunctional market, then it is easy to see why proposals such as increased duty on red diesel would find favour.
Ensuring Ministers and civil servants understand why farming is critically important to this nation has always been a major challenge, but this week’s furore has shown why that task might be harder than ever before.