Exclusive:Rishi Sunak warned UK could see French-style farming protests if dissatisfaction continues

Farmers in France blocked motorways, dumped dung outside public buildings and clashed with riot police during a campaign of civil unrest.
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Rishi Sunak has been warned that he could see French-style farming protests break out across the country unless he acts quickly.

On Monday, tractors took over Parliament Square and blocked traffic across central London to protest against getting bad deals from supermarkets and the government, according to campaigners. Farmers have told NationalWorld that they feel undercut by post-Brexit trade deals, while supermarkets are still paying too little money for homegrown produce. 

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They say that the government needs to pay far more attention to food security, which is under threat from the climate crisis and wars across the globe. The Westminster protest was the most noticeable sign of discontent so far from the British agricultural community, after similar demonstrations in Kent and Wales.

It comes after a series of violent farming protests in France made international headlines. Farmers dumped dung outside public buildings, blocked motorways and clashed with riot police while disrupting visits by French President Emmanuel Macron

Now farmers in the UK have warned Sunak that dissatisfaction and fury at his agricultural policies is so high, he could see similar clashes this side of the Channel. Fergus Corrigan, 31, who owns the UK’s largest lavender farm, told NationalWorld that the government’s disastrous handling of Brexit and issues with supermarkets were pushing many in his industry to the edge.

French farmers clash with riot police. Credit: GettyFrench farmers clash with riot police. Credit: Getty
French farmers clash with riot police. Credit: Getty

He said: “I’d like Sunak to take note of all the massive farming protests which are happening at the moment, in Kent and Wales. They just had massive ones where the Welsh Assembly completely U-turned - which is impressive. But what’s happening in Europe is going to start happening in the UK with protests.

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“I think there’s low level rumblings not just in agriculture but about everything, where people are really unhappy. Nothing’s moving forward - everything is going back, the country on every single thing that you look at is deteriorating.”

Corrigan explained that the additional import checks from Brexit have hugely impacted his business, leading to spiralling costs and far more admin and red tape. He also hit out at Sunak, who lives close to his Northern Lavender farm in North Yorkshire, for not understanding farmers.

Fergus Corrigan at his Northern Lavender field in North Yorkshire. Credit: Fergus CorriganFergus Corrigan at his Northern Lavender field in North Yorkshire. Credit: Fergus Corrigan
Fergus Corrigan at his Northern Lavender field in North Yorkshire. Credit: Fergus Corrigan

“At the NFU (National Farming Union) conference, in front of thousands of farmers, he said ‘you don’t do it for the money’, you don’t do farming for the money. Yes you do, it’s a job at the end of the day, you have to make money. How out of touch are you? You can’t speak like that.”

Liz Webster, founder of Save British Farming, who was one of the main organisers of the Westminster protest, told NationalWorld that the campaign would continue. “We are at the beginning of what we see is going to be a long and hard fight,” she said. 

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“We will continue to campaign hard using all of the available time we have, doing events as and when we can. But we are busy, and we’re about to go into the busiest time of the year for farmers. We have got a strategy and we will continue to build on that. More and more people are getting involved which is great.”

British farmers protest in Westminster. Credit: GettyBritish farmers protest in Westminster. Credit: Getty
British farmers protest in Westminster. Credit: Getty

She continued: “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.”

Gavin Pearce, an arable farmer from Kent who took part in Monday’s protest, told NationalWorld that he blamed both the government and the supermarkets. He said: “The government doesn't want farmers, the supermarkets have got too much power, and it’s a number of two. It goes back to the government not controlling Brexit, the deals they’ve made.

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“Protesting here to get fair prices for farmers and stop importing food at a lesser quality than we produce. We’re paying the price for our standards. Why should we be underpaid with what we’re producing when we’re doing everything we can to make a living, and we’re not getting paid for it.”

When asked about the protests by NationalWorld, Sunak’s official spokesman said that at the NFU conference the Prime Minister “reiterated the government’s support for farming and launched the largest ever package of grants”.

He continued: “We’ve, more broadly, been clear that farming is at the forefront of any trade deals we negotiate. The PM announced last month, in response to representations from the NFU, an annual food security index.”

When asked about the relationship between supermarkets and farmers, the British Retail Consortium has previously told NationalWorld: “Retailers are unique amongst UK food businesses because they are legally required to offer all direct suppliers written contracts covering payment conditions. Those requirements are overseen by an independent adjudicator.”

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Ralph Blackburn is NationalWorld’s politics editor based in Westminster, where he gets special access to Parliament, MPs and government briefings. If you liked this article you can follow Ralph on X (Twitter) here and sign up to his free weekly newsletter Politics Uncovered, which brings you the latest analysis and gossip from Westminster every Sunday morning.

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