Members of the NFU’s ruling council have said that they will want DEFRA secretary Margaret Beckett’s resignation if the process of making single farm payments to all farmers in England is not completed by the EU deadline of 30 June.

NFU council voted in favour of the demand following an impassioned debate on Tuesday morning (11 April).

They also made it clear they want to see a full indepedent inquiry into the SFP debacle.

Several council members offered accounts of the anxiety and hardship being caused by the chaos and confusion into which the process of making the payments has descended.

The meeting was told of overdrafts having to be extended, bills unpaid, of a cash-flow crisis, and of rural helplines such as the Farm Crisis Network being overwhelmed by calls from increasingly desperate farmers.

Earlier the Council had been told by Mark Addison, acting chief executive of the Rural Payments Agency, that he was “extremely sorry” that the RPA had not been able to meet its original timetable, but he could not make promises about when farmers could expect to their payments.

He told the meeting that as of April 10 only £341 million, or 22% of the total figure, had been paid to 43,700 claimants – 36% of the total number.

Mr Addison outlined the steps that had already been taken to improve and speed up the processing of claims and said that a system that would allow for part payments was being worked up.

But he insisted that the RPA was not in a position where it could “press the button” on a partial payments system.

Speaking after the meeting, NFU President Peter Kendall said: “Today’s debate was a reflection of the anger and frustration – verging in some cases on desperation – that farmers across the country have been expressing at the complete fiasco, from conception to delivery, that the single payment scheme in England has become.

“Council felt that it was Margaret Beckett’s decision to opt for the hugely complex model of single payment that applies in England and it was Mrs Beckett that accepted the assurances of her officials at the RPA that they would be made on time. So it is she who has the responsibility for sorting out this appalling mess.”