NFU president Minette Batters has dismissed a suggestion that the UK could import all of its food as “completely out of touch”, following reports of a leaked email from a senior government official.
Treasury adviser Dr Tim Leunig is reported to have said the food sector is not ‘critically important’ to the economy, while agriculture and fisheries ‘certainly isn’t’, according to leaked emails obtained by the Mail on Sunday.
According to the Mail, Dr Leunig, who is economic adviser to the chancellor Rishi Sunak, said the UK could follow the example of Singapore, which does not have its own agricultural sector. He is also said to have suggested that farmers should not be given tax breaks denied to other industries.
Responding, NFU president Minette Batters told Sky News: “Farms are the backbone of rural Britain. We’re the largest manufacturing sector, surely the last thing we want to go to is importing cheaper raw ingredients.”
She dismissed the comparisons with Singapore as “completely out of touch with where this country is”.
“Singapore has five million people and doesn’t have any farmed landscape so it actually has to import all its food,” she added. “Here, 75 per cent of Britain has a farmed landscape, we have a fantastic maritime climate in which to produce our food, and we have 60 million-plus people here to feed so there’s a sort of moral imperative, if you like, for us to be able to produce food in this country.”
The government has distanced itself from Dr Leunig’s comments – which are understood to have been made in personal emails, and not in his professional capacity. A spokesperson said: “Our commitment to the nation’s farmers is absolutely clear.
“We will always back our farmers to make sure they can seize the vast range of opportunities outside of the EU, and last week we published plans showing how we will support them in their critical role of feeding the nation and protecting our environment.”