Defra Secretary Michael Gove’s post-Brexit farming policy has been written in Westminster, with no regard for its impact on rural communities, says Tim Farron, agriculture spokesman for the Liberal Democrats.
With just under a year to go until we officially withdraw from the European Union, the future for British farmers has never looked more uncertain.
For our farmers to thrive, they need to be able to plan for the long-term.
But instead of providing farmers with assurances so they can prepare for the future, they are given nothing but soundbites by Defra Secretary Michael Gove.
The Government’s ideological drive towards exiting the single market and inability to negotiate a new trade deal is set to leave British farmers trading on World Trade Organisation tariffs.
Hill farmers currently export 40 per cent of their total produce, 90 per cent of which goes to the EU.
If the Government’s shambolic handling of the negotiations means we leave the EU without a deal, then a 52 per cent tariff would be slapped on sheep product exports. Put simply: most hill farmers would not be able to survive.
On top of this, British farmers face more uncertainty as a result of Mr Gove’s dangerous drive to end the direct payment scheme.
These payments are a lifeline for many farmers and removing them would be a body blow to the industry.
Now of course it is right that we should support farmers to provide public goods such as environmental schemes, but these environmental payments often go to the landowner rather than the tenants who farm the land.
Gove’s proposals look like they have been written in an office in London in order to win headlines, while not thinking through the real impact on our rural communities.
The Government’s plans look likely to lead to a slow attrition of family farming in places like Cumbria.
Not only would that be a tragedy for our farmers, it would damage our landscape and reduce Britain’s ability to feed itself.
The best way to secure environmental benefits is to keep our farmers farming, not to turn them into park wardens.
We are often told that leaving the European Union is set to give us many benefits in the long-term, but unless the Government starts to give farmers some proper assurances on their future, the industry risks being crippled for decades to come.