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Farmers stage Westminster tractor protest over ‘threat to food security’

Farmers take part in a tractor 'go-slow' through Parliament Square (PA)
Farmers take part in a tractor 'go-slow' through Parliament Square (PA)

Farmers converged on Westminster in tractors on Monday evening to protest against “substandard imports and dishonest labelling” they warn are threatening food security.

The campaign groups Save British Farming and Fairness for Farmers of Kent assembled for a “go-slow” convoy around Westminster, with more than 100 tractors taking part.

Tractors flying Union flags made their way across the capital and through Westminster, carrying signs with slogans such as 'Save British farming' and 'No farming, no food, no future'.

The protesters raised concerns over the increasing difficulties faced by the British farming industry which they say are leaving the nation’s food security at risk.

Farmers take part in a tractor
Farmers take part in a tractor "go-slow" in, central London (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)

They are calling for an end to trade deals which they say are allowing imports of food produced to standards that would be illegal in the UK and undercutting British farmers.

Organisers also criticise labelling that allows products to bear a Union flag when they have not been grown or reared in Britain.

Geoffrey Philpott, a cauliflower farmer in east Kent, who brought three tractors to the rally, said: “I hope to be farming for many years to come, but if things don’t change, I won’t be and I won’t be employing the 14 people who work for me.

“Then we will be reliant on foreign produce that will not have the high standard of UK production.

“Once that happens, we could be held to ransom over supply and pricing.”

The demonstration comes after months of similar protests in Europe, including in Greece, Germany, Portugal, Poland and France.

Although previous rallies have taken place in the UK, Monday’s has been the largest of those recently.

A farmer during Monday's protest (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)
A farmer during Monday's protest (Jordan Pettitt/PA Wire)

Speaking at the protest, Wiltshire beef and arable farmer and Save British Farming founder Liz Webster said poor conditions for farmers risked food security and the nation’s health.

Trade deals with New Zealand, Australia, and the CPTPP deal with 11 countries including Canada, Japan and Mexico, along with a lack of import checks, were allowing lower standard foods into the country, she said.

British producers had also lost the level playing field with EU farmers and within the UK, Ms Webster warned.

She said European farmers were still receiving subsidies, had freedom of movement for labour, and had continued to have access to British markets, enabling them to undercut farmers in Britain.

Ms Webster said the current situation was “like going out with the English football team to the World Cup and saying ‘off you go, you’ve got chains on your legs and chains on your hands’. We are completely and utterly disadvantaged”.

At the same time, the new English agricultural policy of paying farmers for environmental measures such as habitat creation was taking land out of food production, she said.

Ms Webster said: “In 2019, this Government was elected with a mandate to uphold our standards and deliver a ready-made deal with the EU which would see British agriculture boom.

“It is now entirely obvious that they have totally betrayed us all.

“Polling shows that the public back British farming and food and want to maintain our high food standards and support local producers.

“We need a radical change of policy and an urgent exit from these appalling trade deals which will decimate British food.”

She criticised the Government for changing its trade and agricultural policies, and then not monitoring food security closely enough, warning the UK could have to compete with other countries for supplies.

And Ms Webster called for alignment with European regulations to support British farmers.

Jeff Gibson, founder of Kent Fairness for Farmers, said: “It’s so important that our message about substandard imports, dishonest labelling and concerns for food security is heard.

“With an election looming, we want to ensure the next incoming government takes up our cause.”

However, the Government said that at least 60 per cent of food consumed in the UK was grown here.

A spokesperson said it had maintained the £2.4bn farming budget and that it had also launched a consultation on fairer food labelling regulations.