Maintaining access to the single European market and giving UK citizens a second vote on Brexit form the centrepiece of the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto, released on Wednesday (17 May).
“A bad Brexit deal, with Britain outside the single market, will wreck our children’s future and wreak havoc on our economy, our schools and our hospitals,” said a party statement. “It will turn Britain into a regressive, isolated and inconsequential nation.”
The manifesto goes on to declare “the vote to leave the EU puts farming and agricultural businesses in huge danger, threatening both cuts to the support that underpin farmers’ livelihoods, and tariffs on exports”.
“For agricultural products outside the EU, tariffs average 22.3% – putting Britain’s £18bn of food exports in danger.”
To counter this threat, the Liberal Democrats have made seven manifesto commitments for food and farming:
1. Continue to reform agricultural subsidies – rebalancing away from direct subsidy and refocusing support towards public goods, including countryside protection, flood prevention, food production and climate change mitigation.
2. Encourage new and younger entrants to farming by championing different forms of ownership including longer tenancies, share farming and community ownership.
3. Introduce a National Food Strategy to promote the production and consumption of healthy, sustainable and affordable food.
4. Increase the powers of the groceries code adjudicator and extend its remit to include businesses further up the supply chain, helping to ensure farmers receive a fair price.
5. Continue to improve standards of animal health and welfare in agriculture by updating farm animal welfare codes and promoting the responsible use of antibiotic drugs.
6. Ensure future trade deals require high safety, environmental and animal welfare standards for food imports, including clear country-of-origin labelling for meat and dairy products.
7. Develop safe, effective, humane and evidence-based ways of controlling bovine TB, including by investing to produce workable vaccines
The Liberal Democrat manifesto also puts an emphasis on protecting nature, which it says underpins key industries such as agriculture and tourism. It promises to:
- Establish a £2bn flood-prevention fund focused on reducing upstream flooding and the knock-on effects in downstream and coastal areas
- Pass a Nature Act, setting legally binding natural capital targets, including on biodiversity, clean air and water.
- Significantly increase the amount of accessible green space, including completion of the coastal path.
- Reverse the current sharp decline in the rate of woodland creation.
- Suspend the use of neonicotinoids until proven that their use in agriculture does not harm bees or other pollinators.
- Introduce stronger penalties for animal cruelty offences, increasing the maximum sentencing to five years, and bring in a ban on caged hens.