Lord Frost gave several reasons for his “disappointment” with government policy when he largely resigned over the weekend.
But in addition to the exorbitant cost of ‘net zero’, high taxes and a Plan B tackling of Covid, there was one vital – and traditionally conservative – area that the former Brexit negotiator didn’t mention.
This, of course, is the government’s approach to agriculture and food production. The media largely neglected the same topic in discussions of last week’s by-election in North Shropshire – which saw the Conservative Party lose a seat it had held for nearly 200 years.
But that could hardly be more important – and it’s part of what this government is doing.
Do we want the “lightly regulated, low-tax entrepreneurial economy” described by Lord Frost – meaning a refusal to support farms along with much higher imports of food from less regulated countries?
Or are we now a big-state economy with an interventionist industrial strategy, reliant on higher taxes and bureaucracy, so that the Conservative Party can hold the red wall that voters won in the last election?
NFU President Minette Batters (pictured) says that if we care about food source, animal welfare standards, and the countryside, we need policies that support our farmers
As far as food and agriculture go, the way forward is to combine the best of both approaches.
But the government’s lack of strategic thinking means farmers now risk ending up in the worst of both worlds.
If we care about where our food comes from, animal welfare standards, the environment and the countryside, we need common policies that support our farmers.
This will ensure that we truly are the world leaders in sustainable and climate-friendly agriculture. It has backed the government’s commitment to sign trade deals – but our recently announced deal with Australia has serious problems.
The “impact assessment” that came along with the Australia deal predicted a reduction in overall UK beef and sheep meat production. The impact this could have on family farms in areas such as the Welsh Highlands is significant.
Free trade is built on the idea that there will be some losers – hopefully outnumbered by winners – and decades of trade liberalization shows that to be true.
MS Batters says the ‘impact assessment’ that came along with the Australia deal predicted a reduction in overall UK beef and sheep meat production, and the impact on family farms would be significant
So the rationale for making deals with big agricultural producers like Australia and New Zealand is to import more food from them. And that’s what we agreed on – in spades.
It should be clear, then, that our government will do everything in its power to help British farmers to compete in this harsh new environment. but not. In contrast to Lord Frost’s view of a “lightly regulated” system, we see Defra promoting the counter position with great success.
Farmers are now facing the Animal Awareness Bill, the Saved Animals Bill, and Animal Welfare Bills, as well as the gold plating of EU laws and regulations.
The government appears to be increasingly supporting the removal of land from food production – often by “rebuilding”, and this threatens farmers’ livelihoods as well as Britain’s self-sufficiency and food security.
As UK trade policy forces British farmers to deal with imports from some of the world’s most efficient farmers, another government department is cuffing their hands behind their backs.
We are still weeding out healthy pigs and putting pig breeders out of business. Due to a seasonal labor shortage, £60m worth of unharvested crops were wasted this summer, left to rot in the fields. Thanks to inflation, our costs have skyrocketed.
Due to the lack of seasonal workers in the slaughterhouses, British farmers are still killing healthy pigs
The truth is now clear. The farmer’s income will come under pressure. Costs will go up. We will increasingly have to compete with imports that do not meet the same standards and regulations that UK farmers are bound by.
The government needs to be direct with farmers and the public about the effects of its current two-tiered approach.
They need to face the reality of the decisions they make, commit in writing to developing our self-sufficiency in food production and standardize food and agriculture policy that works for all.
It is time for this government to remember that it cannot rely forever on that vital voter base: farmers and rural people.