Prime minister Boris Johnson intervened twice to stop the Derbyshire badger cull going ahead, court documents have revealed.
Earlier this week, the High Court ruled the Government had not acted unlawfully in calling off the Derbyshire cull at the last minute, after the NFU launched a judicial review of the decision.
Now the full judgment of the court, seen by Farmers Guardian, has shown the Prime Minister placed increasing pressure on then Farming Minister George Eustice to stop the cull, speaking to him about it on two separate occasions after his partner, Carrie Symonds, met the Badger Trust.
During his first conversation with Mr Eustice, the Prime Minister asked him to give ‘careful consideration’ to the issues surrounding the Derbyshire cull, and the badger cull policy more generally, but said the decision about whether to proceed was ultimately his, as Farming Minister, to make.
Subsequently, Mr Eustice wrote to the Prime Minister to say it ‘would be wrong to halt the issuing of any current licences’ but ‘once the culls had completed their four-year cycle, Government should look at alternatives such as vaccinations to give an exit strategy from the badger control phase of the 25-year strategy’.
The Prime Minister initially ‘reluctantly accepted’ this decision, but later spoke to Mr Eustice again to ‘reiterate his specific concerns about Derbyshire’, where he feared vaccinated badgers could end up being culled as there are several public and privately funded badger vaccinations schemes in the area.
As a result of this conversation, Mr Eustice asked officials to draw up a list of options to mitigate the Prime Minister’s concerns and they suggested introducing a 200m buffer zone would be a ‘pragmatic’ measure to enable the cull to go ahead.
They did not recommend stopping the cull in 2019 as there was ‘no disease control rationale’ for such a move.
The Farming Minister wrote to the Prime Minister again on September 2 to say he was minded to allow the cull to happen, on the grounds that mitigation measures to prevent the cull of vaccinated badgers were introduced, but received no response.
On September 4, after canvassing the views of president Minette Batters, the NFU officially rejected the buffer zones plan.
The document reads: “They told Defra officials they felt that such measures would compromise the disease control basis for the proposed cull.
“They also indicated they thought any decision to impose buffer zones would be received very poorly by the [cull] Company and the wider farming community.
“They ultimately took the position that no halfway house was possible, and that culling should be licensed for the whole area or not at all.”
The cull company were not informed by Defra officials or the NFU about the buffer zones proposal, and later said they would have been ‘amenable’ to it, but by the time they found out, the cull had already been called off.
In drawing her conclusions about the court case, the judge, Mrs Justice Andrews, rejected the NFU’s claim that the Government’s decision to pull the plug was irrational.
She said: “Derbyshire was a county with a particularly substantial vaccination programme and a particularly vocal animal-rights and anti-culling lobby.
“As the Minister and the Secretary of State appreciated, permitting a cull to take place in Derbyshire was liable to inflame local and national tensions, and in turn risked limiting the Government’s future policy options.
“If there was a desire to shift the balance away from culling and towards non-lethal methods of control in line with the recommendations of the Godfray review, it is understandable why senior politicians might have felt that it was more important to keep the pro-vaccination lobby on side and risk the alienation of farmers by deferring the licensing decision for just a year.”