NFU President Minette Batters refused to take a seat on the Trade and Agriculture Commission because she did not want to be bound by the confidentiality agreement all members had to sign, Farmers Guardian has learned.
Though Ms Batters said she believed it was important for the union to have technical representation on the commission, which has been set up to explore ways to protect standards in trade deals, she told FG the main reason she had not taken up the appointment was to maintain her ‘independent voice’.
The NFU is the only union which is not represented by its president on the commission, with NFU Brexit and international trade director Nick von Westenholz taking on the role instead.
Asked by FG whether it was good for democracy that members were unable to speak freely about the work they are undertaking, Ms Batters said: “That is the main reason I am not on it.
“[Trade Secretary] Liz Truss was very keen that I was on the group, but I have always been adamant it is about technical expertise.
“I also, bearing in mind the position we are in now, did not want to find myself bound by any form of confidentiality clause.
“I wanted to be able to freely speak to members about the dangers and opportunities as I saw it.”
The NFU is now pushing for the commission to be beefed up as the Agriculture Bill winds its way through the House of Lords.
The union used its annual Back British Farming day event on Wednesday (September 9) to call on Lords and MPs to support an amendment to the Bill which would make the commission permanent and give it a legal obligation to report to Parliament – not the Trade Secretary as at present.