NFU President Meurig Raymond had constructive and robust discussions with Defra Secretary Andrea Leadsom on the NFU’s vision for post-Brexit farming and Defra’s plans for BPS 2016 payments.
Mr Raymond majored on the importance of unfettered access to the EU market free of tariffs and non-tariff barriers for agricultural commodities, and urging government to place equal priority on food and farming as well as other economic sectors.
He said: “We set out firmly that high standards of UK farm production must not be sacrificed in a free trade deal and I was pleased to hear that Mrs Leadsom was agreed with us on that. British food cannot withstand a market flooded with imports produced to lower standards – there was universal understanding of this in the meeting.
“We welcomed her initiative to explore new markets outside the EU such as China where she has held talks recently but stressed that retaining key export markets for agricultural commodities, such as those to the EU, is vital for many UK farming sectors.”
The NFU President also discussed the reasons behind farming’s immediate need for non-UK seasonal labour.
“Access to non-UK labour is an urgent concern for our farmer and growers, and the food processing sector. We discussed possible solutions, including the urgent need for a substantial trial of a visa-controlled Seasonal Agricultural Permit Scheme. And due to confusion caused by Brexit, we called for the government to reassure all EU citizens already working here of their right to remain in the UK.”
Mr Raymond also took the opportunity to discuss BPS delivery at a senior level, urging Mrs Leadsom to ensure claimants paid late in the payment window last time, such as graziers on commons, are the first to be paid this time.
“We were clear that the RPA’s target to pay 90% of claimants in December was a welcome one for English farming. But we are acutely aware that RPA is already warning BPS claimants, such as those on commons or cross-border holdings, to plan for a later payment. It is not acceptable that these same farms could be paid late in the payment window for the second year running.
“We were robust in our calls to Mrs Leadsom and the RPA that these farmers are paid as soon as possible and if that is not possible then government must urgently plan for an early bridging payment to avoid the repercussions of last year.”