Prime Minister makes big promises to farmers in Devon

PM Rishi Sunak in Devon
-Credit: (Image: DevonLive)

Rishi Sunak praised the “contribution” of farmers on a visit to Devon today where he attacked Labour’s rural policies. The Prime Minister said it has been “a real privilege” to understand the contribution farmers make to society.

Speaking at a Q and A with farmers while standing on a bale of hay in front of a John Deere tractor at Chuggs Farm near Barnstaple, he said: “Now, I grew up in Southampton, and I didn’t come from a farming background. So it’s been a real privilege to understand the contribution that you make to our society.”

Mr Sunak said badger culls “have to be part of the solution” for preventing the spread bovine tuberculosis to cattle.
He added: “The success of the badger culls where we’ve done them have brought the incidence rates down by just over 50%, so that shows that that plan is working.

“I believe in the science. And yes, of course, a vaccine is good, and we’re investing in research and development, but that is going to take some time. So, culls have to be part of the solution.
“And particularly when it comes to badgers, when you look around the world, there’s no country that I think I know of where they’ve eliminated TB in cattle without eliminating it in, whether it’s possums or badgers or the equivalent wildlife, which is why I think culls are important.”

The Prime Minister denied he had given up on winning the election as he continued the Conservative campaign in Westcountry seats with large Tory majorities on Tuesday, June 18.
Asked during a visit to a farm in North Devon, where Selaine Saxby is defending a majority of almost 15,000, whether he had given up on victory, the Prime Minister said: “No. It’s because as I say whenever someone asks me a question like that I say the same thing which is I don’t take a single vote for granted and I’m going to be in every single part of our country talking to people about the choice at this election.

“Why have I been in the places I’ve been today in Devon? Well firstly, I was with fishing communities, because the choice is crystal clear at this election, the Labour Party did not mention the word fishing once in their manifesto, whereas we’ve made sure there’s an extra billion pounds of cash available for British fishing fleets... again, there’s only one party at this election that’s really on the side of British farmers... that’s what I’m doing in Devon today.”

The Prime Minister was introduced to farmers at the meeting by Lord David Cameron, who warned the Liberal Democrats would bring more “wokery” to politics.

He added: “He (Rishi Sunak), took over our country at a difficult time. These twin icebergs of coronavirus >Covid and the Ukraine war hit our economy hard, brought it to a standstill and caused inflation to go up to over 11%. His key task as Prime Minister was to get the economy back on track, and now inflation is back to 2% and our economy is growing strongly. What we need right now, is leadership in dangerous and uncertain times.”
During the visit Rishi Sunak and Lord Cameron struggled to feed sheep on one farm. “Come on,” the Prime Minister said as the flock ran to the other side of the pen. “They don’t want to play ball,” a farmer accompanying Mr Sunak said.
“I think they thought we were their shearers,” the Prime Minister joked.

Speaking to the Western Morning News following his Q&A he said: “Selaine and I are focused on supporting farmers, and at this election there is clear choice. The Conservatives are giving a guaranteed food security target in law, focusing on food production. There is £1billion more funding for the farm budget in the next Parliament, dedicated to food production. In contrast Labour barely had 80-odd words in their manifesto about farming. Forget about increasing the farm budget; they can’t even say they are going to protect it. They don’t understand rural Britain.”

He also encouraged those thinking of voting for any party other than the Conservatives to talk to Welsh farmers: “Ask them what the Labour government is doing to them in Wales,” he said.

“Farmers in Wales are getting hammered. They are so worried about their future because what they’re doing is imposing top-down targets on them, which are going to destroy jobs, incomes, livelihoods, take land out of food production, and that’s what will happen in England if they are in power.

“A vote for anyone who is not a Conservative candidate is making it more likely that Keir Starmer is in charge, who is not committed to protecting the farming budget, let alone increasing it, and will not put a food security target in law to make sure we focus on backing farmers to produce food.

“That is the choice in this election. You do not have to look very far to see what happens when Labour are in charge of rural communities. It is not a pretty picture in Wales.”

Selaine Saxby spoke about apprenticeship schemes enabling young people into farming, saying: “There’s been a lot of work done to enable late starters, so if you suddenly want to move into it, there are transition schemes already in place. One of the huge issues is housing, whatever industry they’re in, so one of the challenges is permitted development rights on farms to enable them to have the next generation living on site or to create accommodation to farmers to be able to give them that leg up to enable them to stay in the countryside.”

On the Liberal Democrat’s targeting North Devon, she added: “It won’t be them in Government on July 5, and they will just be shouting from the sidelines. They can promise whatever they like on the doorstep and we have seen that time and time again. It’s not what they can deliver and it will be tuition fees all over again.”

Mr Sunak added: “I think they want everyone to become vegan as well. We have amazing livestock farmers here, and the Lib Dems want to reduce everyone’s meat consumption by something like 40%. I don’t know what good that is going to do for British livestock farmers.”
Earlier in the day Mr Sunak joined a group of fishermen catching lobster during a campaign visit in North Devon.
The Prime Minister met Torridge and Tavistock candidate Sir Geoffrey Cox on the beach in Clovelly, where they talked to local Conservative supporters.
He took a brief trip out on a fishing boat amid choppy waters to look at lobster pots before returning to shore.
The Liberal Democrats argued Rishi Sunak’s courting of farmers was “too little too late”.
The party’s rural affairs spokesperson Tim Farron said: “This Devon dash is too little too late for Rishi Sunak. Farmers and rural voters are deserting him in massive numbers.
“Farmers have been utterly taken for granted by the Conservative Party, left to cope with sky-high bills, bungled policies and botched overseas trade deals.
“Liberal Democrats will stand up for people in rural areas and give them the fair deal they badly need through a £1bn rural rescue package. It’s clear that people are moving away from the Conservatives and backing the Liberal Democrats in many seats to kick them out of office.”
Meanwhile, the Conservatives have accused Labour of “treating rural communities with contempt” by not including a promise to maintain the farming budget in its manifesto.
The party also claimed Labour had a “secret plan” to increase taxes on farmers because it had not explicitly ruled out abolishing an exemption from inheritance tax for agricultural properties.
The Conservatives have pledged to maintain the agricultural property relief on inheritance tax, raise the farming budget to £1 billion and implement a legally binding food security target.

-Credit:Getty Images
-Credit:Getty Images

Environment Secretary Steve Barclay said Labour would “cut our farmers off at the knees” as his party criticised Labour for not including the words “rural” or “fishing” in its manifesto.
Mr Barclay said: “Keir Starmer has demonstrated that he doesn’t care about farmers, rural communities, domestic food security - or indeed anyone outside of his London bubble.”
He added: “It’s the same old Labour, treating rural communities with contempt.”
But a Labour spokesperson said the claims were “yet more desperate nonsense from a Conservative Party that has lied throughout this campaign”.
They added: “Our rural communities have been abandoned by this Conservative government. Working families in rural communities face low pay and the highest personal tax burden since the Second World War.
“Farmers have been undercut by poorly negotiated trade deals, locked behind unnecessary trade barriers blocking the export of high-quality produce and face skyrocketing energy prices forcing thousands out of business.
“It’s time for change. Labour will give rural communities their future back.”
Labour has promised a “New Deal for Farmers”, including promises to protect farmers in trade deals and boost food security, saying “food security is national security”.