Gove urged to move beyond soundbites

Robin Swann
Robin Swann

Ulster Unionist Leader Robin Swann MLA has said he is growing increasingly concerned at the ‘half-hearted’ approach being shown by the DEFRA Secretary in relation to future support for farmers post-Brexit.

Robin Swann said that at a major conference this week Michael Gove was still ‘worryingly ambiguous’ on just how the government at Westminster are actually planning to ensure reasonable agricultural support after the UK leaves the European Union.

He added: “Having read reports from Tuesday’s Country Land and Business Association (CLA) conference in London, in which the DEFRA Secretary was one of the main keynote speakers, it’s obvious there has been no progress made in his vision since summer and he’s becoming increasingly reliant on overworked soundbites.

“Every time Michael Gove comments on what future support might look like he talks of a vision of farmers being paid for environmental protections, as well as the UK using high welfare and environmental standards to sell exports.

“Whilst this all sounds fine and well, we’re getting to the stage now where actual proposals are needed – specifically on direct agri-support.

“Recognising the need to protect the environment is one thing, but if he continues to completely neglect what he’s going to do for farmers then there is little point as many simple won’t be able to be in a position to protect or enhance their land.

“Even when Michael Gove was directly challenged for more concrete details by landowners and farmers attending the CLA conference he had nothing new to say. The simple reality is talking up the benefits of setting up camping sites on farms – as he appeared to think was a suitable suggestion – is simply not a realistic option for the vast majority of working farms either here or across the rest of GB.

“Farmers are growing increasing tired of his reliance on soundbites and vague pipe-dreams.

“At least there does appear to be some ministers within the UK government who recognise the increasingly vulnerable position UK agriculture is finding itself in. The launch last week of the government’s Industrial Strategy, rightly identified agriculture as one of six business areas which will benefit from new technologies. So whilst there is some limited progress being made, until the DEFRA Secretary actually starts to step up to the mark I fear farmers will find themselves in an increasingly uncertain future. That will be particularly the case for farmers in Northern Ireland who in the absence of a local Executive are completely at the mercy of DEFRA.”