The mask has fallen. UK farmers have been betrayed by this Government, which promised to protect our food production standards in trade deals, says Leicestershire arable and beef farmer Joe Stanley.
‘I’m as excited as a very excited person who has a special reason to be excited’.
In the iconic Blackadder Goes Forth episode, ‘Goodbyeee’, Hugh Laurie’s dim-witted ‘Lieutenant George’ is initially exhilarated by the thought of finally ‘going over the top’ to grapple with the enemy after long years of stalemate.
Only later, as the reality of his own leadership’s hubristic incompetence and self-interested ineptitude becomes apparent even to him, does he admit to fear of the looming outcome – his own almost certain mortal extinction.
In the wake of the 2016 Brexit referendum, many in the farming community and beyond were similarly excited to be presented with the opportunity to leave what they considered to be the entrenched influence and stalemated positions of the European Union’s Common Agricultural Policy behind and break through to the sunlit uplands beyond, as Government promised greater environmental emphasis, higher welfare standards and even (whisper it) farm profitability in a future British Agriculture Bill.
Those hopes, always looked at askance by the more sceptical, have now been exposed as the false promise they always were, conjured to encourage the agricultural community to go over the top in support of Brexit in 2016.
Last week saw our Conservative Government – of ‘Green Brexit’ aspiration – defeat in the Commons the amendment put forward to the Ag Bill by its own Neil Parish, chair of the Efra committee.
This amendment would have achieved nothing more nefarious than to enshrine in law the oft-repeated assurance that our world-leading domestic standards of food production would be protected in future trade deals.
In the wake of the amendment’s coordinated extinction, Conservative MPs – distressed that their pro-farming credentials were subsequently so unfairly queried by an incredulous agricultural community – took to the airwaves to defend their actions: this wasn’t the right time to enshrine our standards, you see?
It’s all so complicated and you just don’t understand. Later; we’ll do it later.
12 hours later, the Financial Times broke the news that Government had drawn up ‘a big concession package’ on agri-foods to ‘kick start’ trade talks with the United States.
Thus, as a coalition of farming and environmental groups rose – as one and with Government encouragement – from the supposedly mire-laden trenches of the CAP to grapple with environmental unsustainability, anti-microbial resistance, ecosystem collapse, poor animal welfare, GHG emissions and more, they instead found themselves pinned down in no-man’s land, staring down the barrels of a US trade delegation as their Westminster leaders looked on insouciantly from a comfortable chateaux 25 miles behind the lines, sipping Kentucky bourbon and frying up USDA prime steaks.
The mask has fallen. We are betrayed.
The only ‘green’ to be seen in this Brexit trade plan is in the dollar bills being exchanged for the City’s vaunted financial services, and in our Government’s omission of courage to stand up for its own people.
We hoped, even the sceptical among us, that the awful tragedy of Covid-19 might at least lead to a better world – to better policy which was so patently required.
But no; despite silken words from Westminster about the value of ‘food heroes’ and ‘key workers’, already we are back to business as usual.
True food security, we are told by Liz Truss at the Department for International Trade, comes from a diverse supply of imports, while Priti Patel at the Home Office this week thanked those key workers for buckling down to our ‘British’ work ethic, before promptly asking them to leave.
Yes; after a brief hiatus, the politics of Brexit is back with a vengeance.
And yes, like Lt George, I fear the looming outcome – the almost certain mortal extinction of our great industry.
To paraphrase; ‘I’m as disappointed as a very disappointed person who has a special reason to be disappointed.’
Joe can be found tweeting at @JoeWStanley