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Farmers ride tractors into central London in major protest over trade deals

The Independent | 25 March 2024

Farmers ride tractors into central London in major protest over trade deals

by Alexander Butler

Tractor-riding farmers have descended on Westminster to protest against trading arrangments they claim will “decimate” British farming and jeapordise UK food security.

Campaign groups Save British Farming and Fairness for Farmers of Kent have assembled a “go-slow” convoy around parliament with organisers expecting 50 to 100 tractors as well as other farm vehicles.

A few hundred people and six tractors sounding their horns were seen by The Independent at College Green at around 6.30pm on Monday.

One tractor could be seen in front of Big Ben with a banner reading “Save UK food security” draped over its front, as farmers stoodby holding placards.

Another could be seen with a banner reading: “Stop substandard imports” as protesters held placards saying “Beep for freedom”.

Wiltshire beef and arable farmer Liz Webster said: “In 2019, this government was elected with a mandate to uphold our standards and deliver a ready-made deal with the EU which would see British agriculture boom. It is now entirely obvious that they have totally betrayed us all.

“Polling shows that the public back British farming and food and want to maintain our high food standards and support local producers.

“We need a radical change of policy and an urgent exit from these appalling trade deals which will decimate British food.”

Organisers have also criticised labelling that allows products to bear a union flag when they have not been grown or reared in Britain.

Ms Webster claimed the current situation was “like going out with the English football team to the World Cup and saying ‘off you go, you’ve got chains on your legs and chains on your hands’. We are completely and utterly disadvantaged”.

Trade deals with New Zealand, Australia, and 11 other countries after entry to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Asia-Pacific trade bloc, along with a lack of import checks, were allowing lower standard foods into the country, she added.

Jeff Gibson, founder of Kent Fairness for Farmers, said: “It’s so important that our message about substandard imports, dishonest labelling and concerns for food security is heard.

“With an election looming, we want to ensure the next incoming government takes up our cause.”

Geoffrey Philpott, a cauliflower farmer in east Kent, who is bringing three tractors to the rally, said: “I hope to be farming for many years to come, but if things don’t change, I won’t be and I won’t be employing the 14 people who work for me.

“Then we will be reliant on foreign produce that will not have the high standard of UK production. Once that happens, we could be held to ransom over supply and pricing.”

It comes after similar demonstrations in Kent saw dozens of tractors clog roads around the port of Dover in a protest against cheap imports in February.

French farmers also moved tractors to block routes in Paris earlier this year, urging the government to do more to protect the country’s agricultural sector from foreign competition, rising costs and low pay.

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs was approached for comment.

 source: The Independent