Farmers have issued a plea for agriculture to be front and centre of the upcoming General Election campaign, after MPs finally backed holding a vote on December 12.
According to a Farmers Guardian Twitter poll, almost 60 per cent of farmers would like an election to be held*, but it is clear many want to understand how the different political parties intend to protect UK food production standards before casting their votes.
Tom Clarke, a Cambridgeshire Fens arable farmer and NFU sugar board member, said: “This could be the most important election for farming, trade and the countryside in nearly 50 years.
“The Government which is formed will shape our food standards, trade arrangements and farming industry in a way not known in two generations.
“It is really clear that for farming, the upcoming December election is for life, not just for Christmas.”
BONFIRE OF BILLS
All the pieces of major legislation which have not yet received Royal Assent, including the Agriculture Bill, Environment Bill, Trade Bill and Immigration Bill, will automatically fall when Parliament is dissolved.
Though Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers recently said in the House of Commons that she wanted the Environment Bill to continue regardless of an election, it is not clear how this could happen, as according to convention, no Parliament can bind its successor.
MINISTERS ON THE MOVE
With a General Election comes a new Government, which means Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers and Farming Minister George Eustice could well be on their way out of the department come December 13.
As a result, future agriculture policy could be entirely re-written.
FEARS ABOUT FUNDING
The Conservatives have pledged to maintain farm support at current levels until the end of this Parliament, which was supposed to be dissolved in 2022.
But a December election closes this Parliament much more quickly than that, meaning farm groups – and environmental bodies – will be forced to battle to keep the £3bn annual budget currently available.
Somerset livestock farmer James Small echoed Mr Clarke’s comments, calling on all parties to promise future trade policy would not undermine standards.
“This would have a disastrous effect on our natural environment and politicians need to write into stone their commitment to prevent this happening,” he said.
But it is not just farmers who are concerned about protecting food production standards.
According to new research commissioned by the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists (BGAJ), 84 per cent of shoppers want food imports to match UK standards.
The survey also found the public strongly backed the idea of supporting British farmers with taxpayer cash to ensure a continued supply of domestically-produced food, with 62 per cent agreeing this was necessary.
*Out of 147 respondents, 59 per cent wanted an election, 30 per cent did not and 12 per cent did not know.
Joe Stanley, Leicestershire arable and beef farmer
“I would be concerned by any majority Government with an ideological penchant for unrestricted free trade in agri-foods, linked with a willingness to pursue a damaging no-deal with our largest trading partner.
“A minority Government would inevitably lead to continuing deadlock and damaging uncertainty for farmers.”
Andrew Loftus, North Yorkshire livestock farmer
“If the election delivers a workable majority for the Conservatives, finally an end to this Brexit uncertainty may be in sight.
“We must then turn our attention to how we communicate and market our product. This will be essential to defend ourselves against unfair future trade deals, but also against the growing anti-meat lobby, which has been gaining momentum while we agonise about Brexit.”
Maimie Paterson, Dunblane beef and sheep farmer
“This must be what purgatory is like. I very much doubt of this will solve anything. Mostly the same MPs will be elected and we will have the same problems.
“We should not have any more Brexit extensions. The job has to be done.”