Labour promises farmers new EU deal amid collapse in UK agriculture firms

Keir Starmer’s party set out ‘new deal’ for sector – as figures show 6,000 farms have gone bust

Adam Forrest
Political Correspondent
Sunday 31 December 2023 22:59
Keir Starmer says he would negotiate 'better' Brexit deal

Labour has promised British farmers a better deal with the EU and vowed to make sure British produce is used for 50 per cent of food offered in schools, hospitals and prisons.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party set out its “new deal” for the sector at the start of a general election year – citing figures that suggest more than 6,000 UK farming companies have collapsed in recent years.

The party said it would use government buying power to back agricultural businesses as it seeks to woo rural voters going to the polls in 2024.

A quota-driven approach across parts of the public sector will run alongside Sir Keir’s pledge to pursue a new veterinary agreement with Brussels in an effort to ease the friction in trade following Brexit.

Labour hopes an agreement on shared standards to relax the red tape – which some food-sector chiefs have been calling for since the Brexit trade and cooperation agreement (TCA) came into force – would boost UK exports.

While Sir Keir has ruled out any wider realignment with the EU – vowing to keep Britain out of the single market and the customs union – he raised eyebrows in September by saying he would seek a “much better” deal when the TCA is reviewed in 2025.

Labour has also pledged to make sure that at least half of all food supplied to hospitals, schools and prisons is British, through the use of public contracts. Sir Keir has said that 50 per cent “is just the minimum – we will do everything to go beyond it”.

Keir Starmer on a visit to Home Farm in Solihull, West Midlands

The party also said it will create a Cobra-style “flood resilience taskforce” to reduce the flood risk for Britain’s farms by delivering drainage systems, flood defences and natural flood management schemes.

Labour claimed that the Tories are presiding over the “destruction” of agricultural businesses – with a new party analysis of official data suggesting that more than 6,300 such companies have been terminated since 2017. This includes almost 5,000 meat, fruit, vegetable and dairy producers.

The analysis of figures from the Office for National Statistics shows that the number of people employed in agriculture has fallen by a third over the same period.

Shadow environment secretary Steve Reed said: “This Conservative government has wrecked our farmers. It is time we turned the page and embraced a decade of national renewal with the countryside at its heart.”

“Labour will give British farmers their future back,” the frontbencher added. “We will deliver lower energy bills for farmers by switching on GB Energy, lower red tape at our borders to get our great food exports flowing again, and use the government’s own purchasing power to back British produce.”

The party hopes its plan for GB Energy, a new publicly owned company to invest in clean, homegrown power and make Britain energy-secure, will deliver cheaper bills for farmers.

It has promised to “rewire Britain” in a way that allows farmers to “rapidly plug their renewable energy into the grid”.

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