East Anglia’s farming leaders prepare their post-Brexit policy demands

NFU East Anglia regional director Robert Sheasby speaking at the regional board meeting in Newmarket

NFU East Anglia regional director Robert Sheasby speaking at the regional board meeting in Newmarket on Monday. - Credit: Submitted

The region's farming leaders said Britain's post-Brexit agricultural policy must ensure subsidy funding is retained at its current levels, along with access to labour and export markets.

The East Anglian regional board of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) held an extraordinary meeting in Newmarket on Monday evening, ahead of a special meeting of the NFU Council, the union's governing body, in London on Friday.

NFU regional director Robert Sheasby said: 'Members agreed it was time to move forward and seize the opportunity to build a new British agricultural policy that works for farmers, the public and the economy.

'For farmers in our region this must include continued access to non-UK labour, both seasonal and full-time, the best possible access to markets in Europe and the rest of the world, and policies that make the most of the world-leading research and development taking place in the East of England.

'There were concerns about calls from some politicians for a 'cheap food' policy. The public recognises that British food is produced to high standards and it's important that we are not open to imports that are produced to lower standards.

'Members also want to see clear country-of-origin labelling on food and a new approach to product approvals (such as pesticides), which is proportionate and based on sound-science.

'There was also discussion about support payments and the need to ensure the support given to our farmers remains equal to that given to farmers in the EU, our main competitors.'

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Meanwhile, the retention of funding and the ability to attract the brightest scientific minds from across the continent are seen as being crucial to the continued success of Norwich's world-leading scientific community.

The Norwich Research Park, which houses institutes such as the John Innes Centre, the Sainsbury Laboratory and the Earlham Institute (formerly known as The Genome Analysis Centre), employs 3,000 scientists, researchers and clinicians – including many who have relocated from other EU countries.

Prof Neil Hall, director of the Earlham Institute, said it was vital the government's Brexit negotiations ensured that valuable academic collaborations across international borders were not restricted.

He said: 'The Earlham Institute, like all research institutes in the UK, benefits from EU funding but also many of our research staff are non-British EU nationals. Therefore, we currently depend on free movement to maintain our scientific excellence and competitive edge.

'The ramifications of this decision will depend very much on what will replace what we have now, and I sincerely hope that the government value the UK's leading position in research and do not hamstring us by restricting collaboration and cooperation across borders.'