Farmers and the farming lobby are powerless

Theresa May speaking in the House of Parliament
Theresa May speaking in the House of Parliament

The phrase ‘you could not make it up’ could have been designed for the politics surrounding Brexit.

What we are now living through is unprecedented, and would be worthy of a House of Cards or West Wing television drama – although people would deem current events too far-fetched even for a drama. Come Sunday night we will see just how badly the Conservatives have fared in the European elections; equally interesting will be how much support Labour has lost, and whether the Liberal Democrats might beat them for second place to the Brexit party.

For the Conservatives the only question is whether they will manage to stay ahead of the Green Party – and that is doubtful. The term sea-change is over-used but we are certainly now seeing that in politics. The Conservative party is very publicly ripping itself apart; the prime minister is the perfect example of being in office but not in power. She sought to describe her latest withdrawal plan as bold and new, but it is neither. Bold would have been to commit to a customs union and try to see down Conservative opposition to that approach.

With support from Scottish Nationalists, many Labour MPs and pro-remain Conservatives that might have got through. Instead she is still trying to patch up her own broken party, which is futile.

As a result when she resigns she will go down as the worst ever Conservative party leader, and possibly the worst prime minister in living memory from any party. That is a sad epitaph for someone who committed her life to the Tory party and public service. The fault is however entirely her own. She made too many wrong decisions, put the wrong people in top jobs, failed to make friends in Brussels or other EU member states – and ultimately failed to show any vision of a post-Brexit plan that would unite leave and remain voters. The name of the game was to find a formula that would work, but she never showed the skills needed to unite people behind a drive to make Brexit work in a way that would not damage economic stability. On that basis while most people have sympathy for Theresa May they will still see her term in office as a wasted opportunity.

Against this background it is hard to understand why the only thing politicians can agree on is that no matter how great the crisis may be they can still disappear on holiday next week. I have never understood why well-paid MPs follow a school timetable, with generous half term breaks. With each day that passes we are getting closer to the next deadline, when the UK will once again have to beg Brussels for a further delay if no deal is done. It is unlikely that compromise will be in the air after the recess. The only thing that might deliver that would be if both Labour and the Conservatives have a bad European election result. They could then conclude it would be in their mutual interest to get a Brexit deal in place. The odds on that are slim. The front runner outcomes remain no Brexit, no deal or a general election.

Among all this mess it is encouraging that the UK farm unions are in agreement about the way ahead. This is not only over Brexit and the need at all costs to avoid no deal, but over trade, support and environmental measures. Hopefully this common cause will survive the debate over the division of the UK funding pot between the regions – the process known as convergence, where Scotland believes it has lost out to Northern Ireland.

The problem now is that while they are singing off the same hymn sheet no-one is there to listen. Policy initiatives would have to come from DEFRA in London, but the minister there, Michael Gove, has much bigger fish to fry. He may be saying little, but he has leadership ambitions and agriculture is far down his list of priorities.

Throughout his term in the post he has been more interested in the environment, knowing that is where votes lie. As a result farming will have to wait yet again while a bigger political game is played out at Westminster. This is not what anyone wanted, regardless of how they voted almost three years ago, but it is the reality of current politics. Farmers and the farming lobby are powerless to break out of this self-destructive loop.