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Personal Profile: Who is Defra’s new Farming Minister, Robert Goodwill?

The Prime Minister has appointed Robert Goodwill as Defra’s new Farming Minister after George Eustice stepped down last week. But who is he and what does he stand for? Abi Kay explores.

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Who is Defra’s new Farming Minister, Robert Goodwill?

Scarborough and Whitby MP Robert Goodwill has first-hand experience of agriculture, having worked as a farmer since 1979.


His family have farmed the same piece of land near Malton for almost 170 years.


He has also trained in crop production, and before being elected to Westminster in 2005, was an MEP in the European Parliament where he served on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee.


This experience in the European Parliament shaped Mr Goodwill’s views on the EU, and many of his contributions in the House of Commons have been Eurosceptic in nature, but he campaigned to remain in the EU referendum and has backed the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement.

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Since entering the UK Parliament, he has served as an Opposition Whip with responsibility for Defra business, a Shadow Transport Minister and a Government Whip, before taking on three Ministerial jobs at the Department for Transport, the Home Office and the Department for Education.


At the Department for Transport, Mr Goodwill had responsibility for shipping and ports, experience which is likely to come in handy at Defra as concerns over post-Brexit imports and exports grow.


Mr Goodwill was also in charge of immigration policy during his year-long spell at the Home Office.


During that time, he was accused of ‘complacency’ after he said NFU concerns about food rotting in fields due to a lack of workers were ‘a little bit of a scare story’.




Plant protection


In February this year, Mr Goodwill called on the Government to ensure the UK has a ‘truly independent plant protection products regime’ after Brexit.


He has repeatedly cautioned against applying the precautionary principle in this area as he claimed it was being used in the EU to ban activities or substances without enough scientific evidence.


Food labelling


Mr Goodwill has called several times in Parliament for more accurate food labelling, saying in November 2018 consumers should be able to see processed chicken comes from Thailand or Brazil.


He also hinted he believed the UK should follow France’s lead in banning plant-based products from being labelled ‘sausage’ or ‘steak’.


He is, however, anti-method of production labelling, particularly on dairy products, saying it would ‘hand the market on a plate to New Zealanders’ who can keep their cows outside for longer periods.


Animal welfare


Mr Goodwill has told colleagues he believes leaving the EU provides an opportunity to improve animal welfare by banning live exports and the import of foie gras or veal produced under systems which are illegal in the UK.




The Scarborough and Whitby constituency covers the North Yorkshire moors, which Mr Goodwill has said should be managed by game keepers and shooting estates to maintain the ‘delicate environment’.


He has also suggested ‘people would not be happy’ to see the moors rewilded because they want heather moorland to be maintained.


But in November this year, he asked his predecessor, George Eustice, whether the Government would consider allowing local wildlife trusts to help farmers to improve wildlife on their land.


GM crops


Mr Goodwill is supportive of GM crops, saying they can reduce reliance on pesticides and fertilisers, make food more nutritious and safer and help tackle global food insecurity.




Throughout his time in Parliament, Mr Goodwill has been less than enthusiastic about biofuels.


As early as 2008, he claimed they did not necessarily reduce CO2 emissions and may in fact ‘contribute to the problem’.


He also suggested EU member states with big agricultural communities had lobbied hard to get biofuels on the agenda as a ‘way of funnelling cash to their farmers’.


More recently, as Transport Minister in 2013, he raised concerns about indirect land use change and said he took the issue of food versus fuel ‘very seriously’.


Delinked payments


Under current Defra plans, English farmers are to be offered the chance to take several years’ worth of farm payments in a lump sum after Brexit, even if they are no longer working the land.


But Mr Goodwill has raised three concerns about this proposal – first, that tenant farmers may be forced to spend the money on dilapidations as they leave their tenancy, second, that farmers could take the payments then have their partners set up a new business and third, that new entrants on farms where the previous owner had taken a delinked payment may not be able to access support on that land.


Soil health


Mr Goodwill has opposed an amendment to the Agriculture Bill which would allow the Government to pay farmers to enhance soil health.


His objections were that it would be very difficult to define soil health and that responsibility for soil health is ‘best left to farmers’ who may want, under certain circumstances, to degrade soil health in order to encourage species which thrive in waterlogged or acidic soils.


Increasing Government’s duties under the Agriculture Bill


Several farming and environmental groups have called for the Government to have legal duties to ensure public goods are delivered, as opposed to simply having powers to ask them to be delivered, as at present.


But Mr Goodwill has opposed amendments to the Bill which would impose these duties, saying they would create a ‘lawyers’ charter’, allowing pressure groups to take the Government to court for not carrying out certain actions.

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