Shropshire Star

Lib Dems call for extra £1bn for farming budget in bid to win rural votes

The party is also calling for ‘arbitrary’ visa salary thresholds to be abandoned in order to help plug workforce gaps in the food sector.

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Lib Dem rural campaigning

An extra £1 billion should be injected into the farming budget, the Liberal Democrats have said as they seek to win over rural voters ahead of this year’s general election.

The party is also calling for “arbitrary” visa salary thresholds to be abandoned in order to help plug workforce gaps in the food sector as it announces a “rescue plan” for British agriculture.

Lib Dem rural affairs spokesman Tim Farron accused the Government of “attempting to rewrite history” after decades of “failed” farming policy, following Rishi Sunak’s speech to the National Farmers’ Union (NFU) conference.

An immediate £1 billion boost to the agricultural and horticultural budgets, from £2.4 billion to £3.4 billion, forms part of the party’s plan, which Mr Farron will set out at the summit on Wednesday.

The Lib Dems said the funding would be “fully costed” in its manifesto, but examples of where it would come from include party proposals to hike taxes on big banks and oil companies.

Fixing “botched” overseas deals, for example by reopening the Australia free trade agreement which has drawn criticism from some farmers over concerns about undercutting, is also among its plans.

The Lib Dems are calling for fresh legislation to guarantee British standards of environmental protection and animal welfare and to give Parliament “final approval” on future trade agreements.

Visa rules should be overhauled in order to allow farmers, fishers and the food processing sector to recruit more staff to boost production, the party says.

Speaking ahead of his appearance at the NFU conference, Mr Farron said: “British farmers need to be rescued from years of Conservative neglect and failed rural policies, which have left our countryside in dire need of help.

“For too long, Conservative MPs have taken farmers for granted. Conservative ministers are shamelessly attempting to rewrite history ahead of the general election.

“Farmers are increasingly turning to the Liberal Democrats to send this Conservative Government a message.

“Farmers do not only put food on our tables, but crucially, act as the custodians of our environment. Yet ministers have failed spectacularly to roll out new payment programmes, and signed botched overseas trade deals which have undercut environmental standards.”

The Lib Dems have been buoyed by a series of by-election victories in recent years, including the largely rural seats of Somerton and Frome, Tiverton and Honiton and North Shropshire.

They are targeting both blue-wall constituencies and Conservative heartlands in the countryside in the run-up to this year’s general election.

The announcement comes after Mr Sunak told farmers “I’ve got your back” in a speech at the NFU conference on Tuesday as he set out Government plans to boost the nation’s food security.

Rishi Sunak
Mr Sunak was the first Prime Minister to appear before the NFU since 2008 (Adrian Dennis/PA)

Becoming the first Prime Minister to speak at the event since Gordon Brown in 2008, he said £220 million will be put into new productivity schemes, technology and automation to “reduce reliance on overseas workers”.

His appearance came against a backdrop of ongoing protests by farmers in the UK as the sector faces challenges such as flooding, high fuel and fertiliser costs, and the shift away from EU-era subsidies.

Mr Sunak said: “You help support millions of jobs, add billions to our economy, shape the landscape.

“But most of all, you produce the food we need – food that is some of the best and highest quality anywhere in the world.

“And that’s why I say to all of you and to Britain’s farmers, just as I did, in my very first speech in Parliament: I’ve got your back.”

Farming minister Mark Spencer said: “Once again, the Liberal Democrats prove they have no plan how to tackle the rural issues facing our farmers.

“The Liberal Democrats have made yet another unfunded spending commitment which would only mean higher taxes for working people and businesses. Farmers want certainty and they will not get this with the Liberal Democrats who just snipe from the sidelines.”

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