The Countryside Alliance has questioned whether Defra is committing enough resources to preparing farming and rural communities for Brexit at a conference in Northumberland on the future of farming.
The event, hosted by Hexham MP Guy Opperman on Friday 15 June, was an opportunity for local farmers and stakeholders to express their views and concerns to the Farming Minister, George Eustice MP, in the informal setting of Ogle Hill Head Farm near Morpeth.
CA Political Relations Manager, James Somerville-Meikle, asked Mr Eustice whether Defra was “focused on the task in hand” by preparing farmers for life outside of the EU. James said that many people in rural communities were growing concerned about the amount of time Secretary of State Michael Gove and his department are spending on issues such as electronic collars and live exports, which could be distracting Defra from delivering the first British agricultural policy in 40 years.
Mr Eustice described Michael Gove as a “difficult task master” and acknowledged that Defra has a considerable workload at present. However, he stressed that farming was not being overlooked and said that Defra had recruited “over 1,000 people” since the referendum result to help deliver Brexit.
Mr Opperman went on to say “I can’t remember a time when Defra was more important than it is now” and said that Michael Gove has “put Defra front and centre of Government, with Number 10 more focused on Defra priorities than it ever has been.”
Commenting on the event, James said: “It was great to have the opportunity to discuss the challenges facing farming in the North East of England.
“Brexit has created a huge amount of uncertainty as could been seen in the questions put to the Minister by the audience on issues from trade and future support payments, to the future of devolution which is particularly important in Northumberland with a number of farms crossing the England/Scotland border.
“Equipping farmers and rural communities for Brexit must be the priority for Defra at the present time and the Countryside Alliance will work hard to ensure that this is the case.”