Defra secretary Andrea Leadsom was full of optimism in her speech at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham today.
“I am so optimistic about our future following our decision to leave the EU and the chance we now have to plot a new course in the world,” she said. “As Environment Secretary I feel I have a key role to play, not just in seizing the opportunities that await us outside the EU, but also in making sure we are the first generation to leave our environment in a better state than we found it.”
“Food, and farming, has helped shape some of our finest landscapes and, with three quarters of our country being farmed, it has a key environmental role to play,” she said. “It’s also of huge economic importance, generating over £100 billion a year and employing 1 in 8 of us. It is, in fact, our biggest manufacturing sector, bigger than the car and aerospace industries combined.”
“Whether it’s English chocolate, Scotch whisky, Welsh lamb or Northern Irish beef, people everywhere want to buy our products, she said. “Thanks to that momentous day in June, there is no doubt we now have a superb opportunity to establish new trading relationships right across the globe.”
“We’re selling coffee to Brazil, sparkling wine to France and naan bread to India,” she said. “And now, under the leadership of Liam, we have a Department for International Trade to further develop our trade and export opportunities.”
“I’m truly excited that our departure from the EU means we can develop policies that are tailored to our most precious habitats and wildlife – not a one size fits all approach for 28 Member States,” she said.
In response, Ian Wright CBE, Director General of the Food and Drink Federation, the voice of the UK’s largest manufacturing sector – food and drink, said:
“The Secretary of State’s confidence in our sector and optimism for the future are heartening. As discussions regarding Britain exiting the EU begin, this country’s 6,500 plus food and drink producers are looking to their ambassadors in Government to secure a workable future relationship with the EU.
“As the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, employing 400,000 people across the UK and contributing £21.9bn to the UK economy, our industry is a major national asset and the envy of the world.
“Our industry requires a stable economic environment in order to remain competitive as we look to continue increasing levels of productivity, growing exports to exceed the £12.3bn figure achieved in 2015 and trebling our apprenticeship workforce by 2020.
“We remain committed on the need for Government to recognise the strategic importance of our industry in EU exit negotiations, in the face of resulting uncertainty following the decision to leave the EU. We offer our expertise and insight to the Secretary of State and share her enthusiasm for our vibrant industry.”
The LibDems said that Mrs Leadsom had failed to clarify post-Brexit funding for farmers. The party’s spokesperson Kate Parminter said, “We still have no idea what Brexit will mean for farmers. We have no promise of long-term funding for farmers and no conversation started about how farmers can be rewarded for delivering public goods.”