A wonderful selection of photos from the Event can be found in the Farmers Club Photo Gallery within the Library section of the website or directly at this link https://www.flickr.com/photos/farmersclublondon/albums/72157679924406334
The Farmers Club has a rich tradition of farming ministers and secretaries of state briefing members and this year was no exception, with Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom spending over an hour discussing a broad range of issues with members at a special briefing in the Club’s new Farmers Suite
Breaking into a hectic pre-election schedule she updated members representing a wide cross-section of the industry on current Defra objectives, before fielding a whole gamut of questions and staying after to continue discussions over light refreshments.
“Whilst friends and relatives who farm in Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire stay at the Club regularly, I have to admit I have never been here before,” she said, commending the recent refurbishment.
Upon leaving Mrs Leadsom signalled how much she valued the professionalism of the debate, and had earlier made it clear that she was actively seeking views to feed into her party’s upcoming election manifesto.
From the outset she was typically upbeat. “Defra is the 100% go-to place on Brexit, we are recruiting the brightest and best from across the country. Of all government departments Defra is the most prepared, the most fired up and the most talented project team to help with leaving the EU.”
Over 80% of Defra policy was determined by the EU, making it effectively the department of EU implementation. Indeed, a quarter of all the EU law that would be rewritten as the UK left was within Defra’s remit, creating 40% of the Government’s total Brexit workload. “It’s a fascinating challenge, compared with doing what we’ve been told for decades. We now have a clean sheet of paper to define our own future.”
Her mantra of Defra overseeing a UK growing more, selling more and exporting more, was reiterated, as well as being the first generation to leave the environment better than it found it.
“I am also very clear about our ambition to give continuity to farmers, and am really proud that we secured the continuation of pillar one and good value pillar two scheme funding to 2020. I am absolutely committed to continuing to support UK farms, in a more selective, focused, productive way than in the past.”
Her five priorities remained: trade, productivity and competitiveness, sustainability, promotion of the trusted British brand, and resilience.
On trade she aspired to raising exports from £20bn in 2016 to £23bn by 2020. Whilst anxieties were expressed about trade negotiations she was optimistic that minister to minister negotiations would ensure a smooth transition. EU Commissioners may have a different view. But ministers in France, Germany and Poland, for example, all felt the same way, she said. Indeed, a smooth transition was a Defra priority. “There will be no cliff edges, on tariffs, quotas or subsidies.”
She recognised that productivity demanded innovation, hence the £160m AgriTech research project. It also needed a skilled workforce. “I am absolutely committed to making sure the industry has the workforce it needs.” Defra had requested a full investigation by the Home Office to establish the sector’s true needs by the end of the year, she said, inviting further representation from the industry.
On sustainability she said work on the natural capital provided by farmers was pivotal, and commended the pioneering of some farmers already collaborating to deliver local wildlife and environmental benefits.
Britain held an enviable reputation for food quality, and was ranked third in the world for animal welfare, often leading the EU, and Defra would maintain if not enhance that. “That’s because those standards matter and because they make us more competitive,” she asserted. “We will not import produce with lower standards or cut our own high standards.”
“On bovine TB I am personally completely committed to our 25 year strategy. I have seen the incredible stress it causes to farmers and their animals and I am absolutely rock solid on this, and you can absolutely count on this government.”
Asked when policies required to meet the needs of EU requirements like the Water Framework Directive would end, Mrs Leadsom answered that the Great Repeal Bill was required first, to nationalise all EU directives, from 29 Mar 2019, and only then could work begin to look at a UK approach.
She said there would be no rowing back on climate change and renewable energy obligations, and the UK would continue to seek to provide global leadership. The issue of licensing crop protection products was less straightforward, given the need to access overseas markets. “But we will always be driven by the science not EU diktats.”
On devolution no powers would be taken back, and more devolution was possible, but the bottom line of preserving internal markets was important. Similarly, Northern Ireland’s land border with the Irish Republic would be resolved. “We have the commitment, if not the means to deliver it just yet.”