A senior government adviser has come under fire after having said that the UK can follow Singapore’s model, a country he regards as ‘rich, without having its own agricultural sector’.
Dr Tim Leunigh’s comments regarding the food sector not being “critically important” to the UK’s economy, and agriculture and fisheries “certainly” not important, were slammed by the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), after being leaked to the Mail on Sunday.
Leunig, a Treasury adviser and academic, is said to be close to Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s chief adviser in Downing Street.
The adviser’s comments are likely to spark fears that ministers will get rid of safeguards for farmers and fishermen following Brexit trade talks.
Minette Batters, National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the comparison between the UK and Singapore is “completely out of touch”.
“Singapore has five million people, and doesn’t have any farmed landscape, so it actually has to import all its food.
“Here, 75% of Britain is a farmed landscape, we have a fantastic maritime climate in which to produce our food, and we have more than 60 million people here to feed, so there’s a sort of moral imperative, if you like, for us to be able to produce food in this country.
“So absolutely we need our farmers, and we’re the bedrock of the largest manufacturing sector, providing all those raw ingredients and currently at 60% self-sufficiency.”
Batters highlighted Britain’s potential to become a world leader in climate-friendly farming, provided the government operated “based on standards, integrity, and actually putting farmers at the forefront of delivering on climate change.”
Sources told the PA news agency that the remarks were made in personal emails and that Dr Leunig was not speaking in his Treasury role.
Farmers and fishermen voted to leave the European Union in large numbers in the 2016 referendum, after the Leave campaign said they will be better off without EU legislation.
Food standards are an important topic in the forthcoming trade talks and brought criticism for environment secretary George Eustice after he refused to rule out chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef from the United States.