Prospective MEPs have been setting out their policies ahead of the European elections.
During hustings at the Royal Bath & West Show, Somerset, political adversaries found common ground in agreeing that the EU needed to change, putting reduced red tape at the top of their agendas.
But it was clear that their hopes for election at the polls on 4 June were pinned on differing visions of agriculture.
The Green Party advocated a return to local and sustainable farming methods. Green candidate Ricky Knight argued for a return of agricultural control to a national level, with a move to more organic methods and higher welfare standards. “Let’s get back to our roots – let’s get back to local farming – it is possible,” he said.
But the Tories’ main thrust was on removing trade barriers across the EU.
“We are keen to pursue the level playing field,” said Conservative MEP Giles Chichester.
He said it would be damaging to withdraw altogether from the EU, and scorned UKIP’s attempts to gain European seats, as only the government could arrange a withdrawal from the EC, not MEPs. “UKIP should stand for the House of Commons,” he said.
But Julia Reid, UKIP candidate, said it was essential to have UKIP MEPs to reveal the “shenanigans” that went on inside the European Parliament.
With EU membership costing British taxpayers £40m a day net – soon to rise to £60m a day – the money would be better spent by withdrawing and serving British interests instead, she said.
As an active farmer, Liberal Democrat Kay Barnard empathised with farming and rural concerns. Although pro-EU, she demanded a full impact assessment on new legislation, restriction of EU powers, and stronger representation in World Trade talks to secure fairer global trade.
The newly-formed pan-European Libertas party was represented by party leader and ex-soldier, Robin Matthews.
“There is so much wrong at the heart of the EU,” he said. “It isn’t working, but it can work.” With the vast proportion of British laws originating behind closed doors in the EC, the regime was ripe for corruption, he said.
“We want to get inside and sort out the problem. Unless we restore democracy to the heart and let people have their say, we won’t get anywhere.”
One point that all the candidates agreed on was that European politics was crucial to British farming, and thay urged everyone to vote in the elections on Thursday 4 June.