Labour pledges to cut red tape for British farmers

Labour has pledged to “back British farmers” by cutting red tape at the border and reducing the reliance on imported food if it wins power.

In a speech shadow farming minister Daniel Zeichner will say the government has left farmers “too vulnerable to low-quality imports”. He will also pledge to improve the post-Brexit farm payments system so farmers are not left “out of pocket”. The Conservatives accused Labour of not having a plan to help farmers.

Farming minister Mark Spencer said Labour’s promise to spend billions on green projects “will mean higher taxes on farmers and our rural communities. In a speech at the National Farming Union (NFU) conference Mr Zeichner is expected to say a Labour government would “resolutely back British farmers reducing our reliance on insecure imports, supporting high quality, local produce for consumers, and ending the shameful new reality of those empty supermarket shelves”.

The shadow farming minister will also say Labour is committed to making the post-Brexit Environmental Land Management Scheme (Elms) work.

Under the system – which is designed to replace European Union subsidies based on the amount of land farmed – landowners and farmers are paid money for sustainable food production and nature-friendly actions like cutting the use pesticides.

Critics of the scheme say it has created complexity and uncertainty for farmers, with some arguing it has focused on environmental policy over food productivity.

“At the moment, frankly, the government is, perhaps inadvertently, in danger of prioritising flowers over flour. We need both – and we need farm businesses to survive and prosper,” Mr Zeichner will say.

“So, we will make (Elms) work. No longer a scheme that under spends hundreds of millions of pounds leaving farmers out of pocket. No longer failing to publish the outcomes of these schemes.

“But a real long-term plan with consistency at its heart that ensures the correct balance between food production and nature recovery. British farmers have staged protests against cheap imports in recent days
Labour has already announced a package of measures as part of its “new deal for farmers”.

These include seeking a veterinary agreement with the EU to cut costs and red tape for food exports and ensuring at least half of all food in hospitals, schools and prisons is British.

The party is keen to win over voters in rural communities ahead of a general election, which is expected this year.

Earlier this week shadow environment secretary Steve Reed told the Times newspaper it was “a huge source of shame” for him that Labour had previously “alienated a lot of people who live in the countryside”.

Labour won just two of the 124 most rural constituencies in Great Britain at the last election, according to research by the left-leaning Fabian Society think tank.

However, Mr Reed told the Times he believed Labour could win up to 60 rural seats at the next election, following success in recent by-elections in Wellingborough, Mid Bedfordshire and Selby and Ainsty.

Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, who are also targeting voters in rural areas, have said an extra £1bn should be injected into the farming budget to support domestic food production and rescue farmers “from years of Conservative neglect”.

The party is also calling for “arbitrary” visa salary thresholds to be scrapped in the farming and food processing sectors to help fill workforce gaps.

It comes after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak used a speech at the conference on Tuesday to set out the government’s plans to boost the UK’s food security, telling British farmers: “I’ve got your back.”

The package included £220m for new food productivity schemes, farm technology and automation to reduce reliance on overseas workers.

Source: BBC

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