Leadership contenders respond to NFU open letter

Conservative Party leadership contenders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have responded to an open letter from the NFU that urged them to commit to delivering a positive future for British food production.

The letter, penned by NFU President Minette Batters, highlighted key policy areas where the next Prime Minister could future-proof British farming.

She called for “a Brexit that creates the right conditions for British farming to thrive” and an agricultural policy that would support farmers as food producers and acknowledges the importance of domestic food production.

Mrs Batters further called for a government that works with British farmers to support the environment, countryside and rural communities.

In his response to the open letter, Boris Johnson said: “The UK farming sector has a number of concerns that I am committed to addressing. I will be aiming to ensure that we have a trade deal that minimises friction on the cross-border transfer of goods, while ensuring that our border is secure and protects UK citizens. I am aware of the disruption that delays will have, and will be working to minimise the potential for delays. I will be happy to discuss specific concerns that the NFU have as we strike that deal.”

He added: “We must invest in sustainable growth through a future agricultural policy which supports farmers as food producers and acknowledges the strategic importance of domestic production in guaranteeing our food security, whilst also improving productivity, resilience and stability in the sector. We have an opportunity to create a more transparent and open food supply chain, one which continues to uphold and enhance standards and safety for consumers at home and abroad.

“Taking back control of our agriculture policy gives us a unique opportunity to make real improvements in domestic production. The Agriculture Bill that is currently before Parliament makes a number of beneficial improvements, but I am keen to work with the NFU to look at what other changes we can introduce to boost standards, enhance consumer safety and encourage domestic production.”

In his response, Jeremy Hunt said: “Farming and agriculture is at the heart of British life and I have sought to put it at the centre of my campaign. Meeting sheep farmers in Shropshire and fishermen in Peterhead brought home to me the importance of agriculture and fishing to our economy and environment. As Prime Minister, I will be judged on my success in supporting the farming industry and I look forward to working closely with you.

“Brexit is the most pressing question that you raise and it is the pivotal issue in this campaign. I have consistently made it clear that my preference is for us to leave with a better deal that addresses the problems with the existing deal and specifically the backstop. I believe that with my experience of business and government I am the best placed candidate to get that deal.”

Mr Hunt added: “I have also sought to prepare for the possibility that the European Union refuses to budge by putting forward a comprehensive No Deal plan. As part of that, a “No Deal Relief Programme” would include a £6 billion fund for the fishing and farming sectors who export to Europe, to ease transition out of the European Union while honouring our international obligations. I would introduce a mixture of tariffs and quotas on beef, lamb, pork, poultry and some dairy to support farmers and producers who have historically been protected through high EU tariffs. I would not lower standards in pursuit of trade deals and I would use every tool to make sure the standards are protected. This plan gives us both the best chance of getting a deal but also ensures we are prepared if we do not.

“I have heard your arguments on the uncertainty that your members will face if we have to leave the EU without a deal. My commitment is that I will mitigate the impact of No Deal Brexit on them. Where they have to change their business model, I will guarantee they get the support they need to do so.  We will ensure that no family or community is left behind.”

Further responses answered questions about immigration and the farming sector’s need for seasonal workers.

The full responses can be read here.

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