How Shropshire's sheep farmers took centre stage at BBC Tory debate

The plight of Shropshire sheep farmers was given an unexpected airing by potential Prime Minister Jeremy Hunt during the live Conservative leadership debate – and one of those who first raised the issue with the Tory hopeful said they were pleased he had recognised their concerns.

Mr Hunt, who is being backed in his bid to become leader of the Conservative Party by Ludlow MP, Philip Dunne, pressed rival Boris Johnson over the prospect of a no-deal Brexit during Tuesday night's debate, using the situation facing the county's sheep farmers as he quizzed the bookies' favourite.

Turning directly to his opponent, Mr Hunt said: "Let me ask Boris a question: what would you say to a sheep farmer in Shropshire that I met whose business would be destroyed by 40 per cent tariffs? He would say, you got your dream of getting into No 10, but what about my dream to have a family business?”

It has now emerged that Mr Hunt had spoken to a number of farmers, and people involved in the agricultural industry, during a pitch for the leadership of the party with local Conservative members at Ludlow Racecourse in April.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt at Ludlow Race Course with other MP's Daniel Kawczynski, Chris Davies and Philip Dunne.

One of those was was a representative of Euro Quality Lambs in Craven Arms – a business that employs around 100 people and exports around 85 per cent of its products to Europe.

Rizvan Khalid, managing director of the company, said his financial controller had been present at the Ludlow Racecourse meeting, and spoke to Mr Hunt about his concerns over the impact of a no deal Brexit as the Foreign Secretary made his way around the tables.

Mr Khalid said: "When they met Jeremy Hunt down in Ludlow Philip Dunne was taking him round the tables and was introducing him to the guests.

"Our business, 85 per cent of what we do goes into Europe and my financial controller talked to Mr Hunt about the impact that tariffs would have, and the delays on lorries going over to Europe.

"We do not know if he spoke to a sheep farmer but we definitely mentioned the impact of tariffs and delays to him."

Contenders Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt

Mr Khalid, who is a board member of the national Association of Independent Meat Suppliers, said they were clear about the potential impact of a no deal Brexit – and had been clear with the Prime Ministerial hopeful.

He said: "From our point of view a no deal Brexit is absolutely disastrous, for the sheep sector generally because a third of sheep are exported, and as business 85 per cent of our trade is exports.

"We just do not see how a no deal Brexit will benefit anyone. I cannot see how any responsible politician can even contemplate no deal."

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Mr Khalid said he was pleased that Mr Hunt appeared to have taken on board people's worries about the future.

Mr Dunne said he had been impressed with the way Mr Hunt handled the TV debate and said he was the only choice for a future prime minister.

He said: "In relation to the debate I thought he came across as the most credible candidate, with a clear negotiating strategy for dealing with Brexit.

"He is alive to the risks of no deal as demonstrated by his reference to the impact on farmers in Shropshire, where he heard first hand when he visited for a major event with over 250 people at Ludlow Racecourse at the end of April where he spoke to farmers and people involved in the sheep and lamb trade. But equally he realises that if it comes to it we will need to leave with no deal rather than no Brexit."

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