The Agriculture Bill needs major reform if farming is to thrive in Brexit Britain, says Leicestershire arable and beef farmer Joe Stanley in an open letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Dear Prime Minister
Congratulations on your election victory; such a large majority bestows a great deal of freedom in your legislative agenda – but also confers weighty responsibilities.
What will you do? Take the opportunity to push through the most radical of agendas, or govern in a spirit of consensus and compromise?
You are a classically – or at least expensively – educated man, so perhaps you are already aware of the Mytilenian Debate?
Following a revolt by the allied Mytilenians in 427 BC, and with emotions running high, the people of Athens voted to kill all the men of the city and enslave the women and children, removing Mytilene from the map.
A ship was despatched with the orders.
The next day, the Athenians began to regret their previous extremism, and a debate was held.
In defence of the original verdict, the speaker Cleon urged them to stay the course – to change their minds would be a sign of weakness, no matter how flawed the decision.
Yet his opponent Diodotus ultimately carried the day, arguing it was incumbent on Athens, as the dominant power, to consider what was right and just – not just expedient – and to look to moderation rather than extremism.
A second ship was swiftly dispatched, and calamity narrowly avoided.
Informing us on this, Thucydides demonstrates that a course of action, once embarked upon, does not necessarily become inevitable.
In fact, he shows it can be brave and virtuous to change course if circumstances dictate, and that moderation invariably leads to a more sustainable settlement.
Prime Minister; you enter government with many expectations upon you.
That we shall leave the European Union in 2020 is no longer in doubt – no second trireme can recall that decision.
But, when it comes to our food and farming industry, there are many decisions seemingly already taken which simply must be revisited in the coming year if we are to avoid a modern calamity.
First, although our exit from the EU is now certain, the manner of that exit is not.
Although it is well-established that you believe a no-deal exit would be nothing to fear, for UK farmers that is patently not the case.
More than 60 per cent of our exports go to the EU. Free and frictionless trade must be maintained.
Second, there must be major reform of the last Parliament’s ‘Agriculture Bill’ if agriculture is to thrive – or even survive – in Brexit Britain.
The extant document is not fit for purpose, and will inevitably see domestic food production, and security, collapse.
Third, do not sacrifice our high domestic production standards – welfare, environmental and safety – in poorly-considered free trade agreements.
The British people will not, in the long term, accept being second-class food citizens in their own country.
Ultimately, Thucydides’ record of the Mytilenian Debate demonstrates that, upon considered reflection, it was realised moderation was in the best long-term interests of the Athenian people.
Although the short-term effects of the original, flawed decision would have been spectacular, the long-term consequences would have been damaging.
When it comes to the long-term future of British food, farming and the environment, it is not yet too late to wisely despatch that second ship.
Joe can be found tweeting at @JoeWStanley