Conservative MPs who voted with the Government to reject an Agriculture Bill amendment to ban low-standard imports have been accused of ‘chucking farmers under a bus’ by the Liberal Democrats.
Tim Farron, who is agriculture spokesman for the party, said people in rural areas would ‘not think kindly’ on MPs who wore the NFU wheatsheaf pin badge on Back British Farming Day, then ‘went into the lobby to undermine British farming’ this week.
His views were shared by rebel Tory MP Simon Hoare, who pushed for a similar change to the Agriculture Bill last time it was in the Commons.
After the vote, Mr Hoare said on social media: “As I tweeted on Back British Farming Day: support for our farmers is a little more than a photo opp with a sheaf of wheat – it actually means standing up, doing something and being counted.”
In total, 14 Conservative MPs rebelled against the Government, including former Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers, Efra select committee chairman Neil Parish and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.
Mr Ross said: “Since becoming leader of the Scottish Conservatives, I have listened to hundreds of farmers who want to see our food and animal welfare standards continue to be world-leading.
“As a former farm worker myself, I chose to support this additional wording to provide a firm, definitive assurance to every farmer across Scotland and the UK.”
Other Tory MPs, including Winchester’s Steve Brine, Staffordshire Moorlands’ Karen Bradley, Southend West’s Sir David Amess and High Peak’s Robert Largan, chose to abstain.
In all, there were 21 Conservative MPs who did not record a vote, though some of the absences will have been authorised by Government – including those of the Prime Minister and Chancellor.
Outlining her opposition to the House of Lords amendment during the debate, Farming Minister Victoria Prentis said the change would make it difficult to sign trade deals, and that other countries – such as those in Africa – would find it hard to follow UK hedgerow regulations.
But Labour MP and former Defra Secretary Hilary Benn pointed out the EU had already forced Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay to keep their hens in line with European standards as part of its Mercosur deal, and said Ministers would have the power to determine equivalence on standards, taking account of climatic and landscape differences across the globe.