Norfolk farmers react as agriculture minister George Eustice resigns

PUBLISHED: 16:33 28 February 2019 | UPDATED: 16:43 28 February 2019

George Eustice has resigned as Defra farming minister. He is pictured speaking at the Norfolk Farming Conference in 2016. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

George Eustice has resigned as Defra farming minister. He is pictured speaking at the Norfolk Farming Conference in 2016. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Copyright: Archant 2016

Norfolk’s farming leader said he is “disappointed” at the resignation of agriculture minister George Eustice, who left citing fears that a delayed Brexit could bring about “the final humiliation of our country”.

The Brexit-backing Tory MP, who has twice spoken at the Norfolk Farming Conference since becoming a junior Defra minister in May 2015, said he was quitting the government in response to Theresa May’s decision to allow a vote on delaying article 50.

In a letter to the prime minister, he said: “It is with tremendous sadness that I have decided to resign from the government following the decision this week to allow the postponement of our exit from the EU.

“Since Parliament is now in direct control of events, I want to be free to participate in the critical debate that will take place in the weeks ahead.

“I will vote for your Withdrawal Agreement when it returns to the House and I very much hope that the Attorney General succeeds in securing final changes so that others might too.

“Although I campaigned to leave, I have always supported compromise to achieve a reconciliation in our country.

“Leaving the EU would represent an historic change and it is natural that some people will feel apprehensive.

“I have stuck with the government through a series of rather undignified retreats. However, I fear that developments this week will lead to a sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country.”

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Hoveton farmer Nick Deane, who chairs the Norfolk branch of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said: “I am disappointed, because he [Mr Eustice] is from a rural background and clearly had an understanding of agriculture.

“I am not a political analyst, so I am not sure if his resignation is a huge issue for us in the farming industry, but it is disappointing that someone with that level of experience has left the cabinet. There is so much change coming in the future that the bigger parameter for Norfolk agriculture is that we need a Brexit with a deal. Getting the right deal is more important than the person doing it.

“I hope that his successor will be someone – not necessarily from a rural background – but someone with an understanding of rural issues, so a rural constituency MP would fit the bill.

“We need someone who understands agriculture, and we need someone who is committed to food production, as the Agriculture Bill does not mention food enough. We need someone who will put food at the forefront and fight our corner, and give us the tools we need to be productive and sustainable.”

Cambridgeshire farmer Tim Breitmeyer, president of the Country Land and Business Association (CLA), added: “We are saddened to hear of George Eustice’s decision to resign as farming minister. He has held the position since 2015, and has maintained a strong voice on behalf of the farming industry during that time.

“His farming background and first-hand knowledge and experience have been invaluable in the many areas of his brief. The farming community has lost a key ally at this critical time for the industry, which faces significant uncertainty and change.”

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