Minister’s resignation ‘major disappointment’ to farming community

The shock resignation of Farming Minister George Eustice has been described as a “major disappointment” by several UK farming bodies with many concerned about the timing of the Minister’s exit so close to Brexit.

Eustice spent his last few days in office meeting with farming groups including National Farmers’ Union Scotland and the Scottish Association of Young Farmers’ Clubs.

Responding to the news, Farmers’ Union of Wales president Glyn Roberts praised Eustice for his understanding of agricultural matters and work to put them on the political agenda.

“Here was a Minister who understood farming –  not just on paper, but true, real-life farming. His resignation is a serious loss to all involved in agriculture at such a critical time,” he said.

A spokesman for the National Sheep Association said the association was “disappointed” by Eustice’s resignation adding that it followed years of working together to support the sheep sector.

“The NSA is anxious to see a new Minister appointed quickly to help provide farming with the political stability it needs,” the spokesman added.

A spokesman for the National Farmers’ Union also expressed concern over the timing of Eustice’s departure.

“With agriculture one of the most affected sectors by Brexit and the Agriculture Bill currently going through Parliament, it is imperative the Defra ministerial team is returned to full strength as soon as possible,” he said.

Country Land and Business Association (CLA) president Tim Breitmeyer said he was “saddened” by the news.

“[Eustice] has held the position since 2015 and has maintained a strong voice on behalf of the farming industry during that time,” Breitmeyer said.

“His farming background and first-hand knowledge and experience have been invaluable in the many areas of his brief. The farming community has lost a key ally at this critical time for the industry, which faces significant uncertainty and change.”

Rob Percival, head of food policy at the Soil Association, was also among those disappointed by the news.

“As Minister for Agriculture, George Eustice helped re-frame agricultural policy, angling it towards a broader vision,” he said.

He brought soil firmly on to the political agenda, giving it priority to environmental ad animal welfare outcomes alongside food production.

“As a supporter of the horticulture sector, he contributed to the Edible Horticulture Roundtable, currently co-chaired by the Soil Association. His legacy includes plans for revitalised County Farms to support new entrants to farming and the 25-Year Environment Plan, which will soon be enshrined in legislation.

“The resignation of the Minister, weeks before the UK is scheduled to leave the EU, will undoubtedly be of concern for UK farmers.

“The Government must now move quickly to appoint a new Minister who can act as an effective advocate for the sector throughout the Brexit process, and who can secure Eustice’s legacy, pushing forward the policy agenda to secure a healthier and more sustainable farming sector.”

Resignation

The UK’s Minister for Farming and Fisheries has resigned from Theresa May’s government following the decision to allow a vote on the postponement of Brexit should MPs reject May’s revised deal.

The former minister said that he will still vote for the withdrawal agreement – but voiced concerns on the EU “dictating terms” of any extension requested, should one be required.

In his resignation letter, Eustice called on the Government to “face the European Union down here and now”, urging May to “reclaim our freedom first and talk afterwards”.

He said: “I have stuck with the Government through a series of rather undignified retreats.

However, I fear that developments this week will lead to a sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country.

Eustice said that he had good relations with both the European Commission and ministers from other member states during his time as minister.

“However, I do not believe that the commission has behaved honourably during these negotiations. They have deliberately made progress slow and difficult,” he said.

“They have stated in terms that they will refuse to even hold substantive negotiations on a future partnership until after we leave.

“If the position of Parliament is now that we will refuse to leave without an agreement then we are somewhat stuck.

“This is uncomfortable for everyone, but we cannot negotiate a successful Brexit unless we are prepared to walk through the door.”