The Tories have paid lip service to the agricultural sector over the past two years, but beyond the rhetoric, they’ve done very little to help farmers, says Kerry McCarthy, Labour candidate for Bristol East.
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We have run an article by the Green Party’s John Finnie alongside this piece from Kerry McCarthy.
During the course of the campaign, we will be carrying or have carried articles from Conservative, Liberal Democrat, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Brexit Party candidates or members.
It’s been fewer than 60 days since I last wrote for the Brexit hub, but it’s been quite the political rollercoaster in between.
Parliament was illegally prorogued by the Prime Minister, we had a Queen’s Speech that was nothing more than a party-political broadcast, the House met on a Saturday for the first time since 1982 to make the Government comply with the law, the deeply flawed Withdrawal Agreement was presented to MPs, then pulled, and now we’re into a five-week General Election campaign.
It’s a rare opportunity to briefly stop and reflect on the Government’s record since we last went to the polls in 2017.
The Conservatives have paid a great deal of lip service to the farming sector over the past two years, but ask yourself this – what have they actually achieved in that time?
Beyond the rhetoric and annual photo opportunity, what have they actually done for you? I’d suggest very little.
The Agriculture Bill was not introduced by their own free will, as in France last year, but because the Common Agricultural Policy must be replaced.
And let’s not forget, they kicked it into the long grass after committee stage in December 2018, then made no attempt whatsoever to carry it over on two separate occasions in September and October.
These are not exactly the hallmarks of a Government that backs British farming.
There’s been a lot of positive coverage for the Bill’s public money for public goods approach, and rightly so, but it has masked significant issues which must be addressed.
At its heart, the Bill is lacking a vision for sustainable food production which helps to tackle the climate, nature and health crises in unison.
The Government’s silence on funding has been particularly deafening. Will they continue to provide the industry with the £3.2 billion currently provided under CAP or not?
It’s a simple question that deserves a simple answer before December 12.
My colleague David Drew, the Shadow Farming Minister, has already made it very clear that Labour would keep the current level of spending and most likely invest more.
Then there’s the Government’s absolute refusal to include a black and white assurance in legislation not to weaken environmental, food and animal welfare standards in future trade deals.
The idea that we should accept a verbal reassurance from a Prime Minister who has such a loose relationship with the truth just won’t cut it.
Especially following the leaked Defra briefing which stated ‘significant pressure’ would be placed on them by the Department for International Trade to weaken standards.
It’s in complete contrast with Labour’s clear commitment to non-regression, as evidenced by my trade amendment to the Agriculture Bill.
Taken together, these factors leave the sector with no financial certainty and no protection from cheap, low quality imports such as battery eggs.
It’s a deeply vulnerable position to be in and it’s clear to me that no industry, no matter how important it is to our economic and social fabric, is safe from the Tories free market mantra.
Bu it’s not just the key pillars of the Agriculture Bill where the Government has been missing in action.
The Rural Payments Agency still isn’t fit for purpose.
The decline of county farms has been allowed to continue unabated.
The powers of the Groceries Code Adjudicator haven’t been extended.
The legacy of scrapping the Seasonal Agricultural Workers Scheme continues to bite, with 1,147 tonnes of apples left unpicked this season.
What’s needed to address these issues, and many more, is bold field-to-fork reform. This isn’t the time for lip service.
In the weeks ahead, Labour will be publishing its manifesto and I’d encourage you all to look carefully at our vision for the future of farming.
In the meantime, it’s time for me to get back out onto the doorstep!
Kerry can be found tweeting at @KerryMP