Brexit ‘destroying’ British agriculture, warns senior Tory MP, Neil Parish

A senior Conservative MP has warned Brexit is “destroying” British agriculture, as he condemned a government minister for failing to act.

www.independent.co.uk 

A furious Neil Parish laid into Kevin Foster, the immigration minister, for ignoring a recommendation to make it easier to bring in EU butchers and other workers – leading to a huge shortage.

The chair of the Commons Environment Committee warned that planting of vegetables was down 25 per cent and poultry production by 12.5 per cent, since Brexit.

“We are seeing our industry slowly being destroyed,” Mr Parish told the minister – demanding to know why the migration advisory committee’s call for farm workers to be placed on the shortage list was rejected.

“I thought Brexit was about encouraging production in this country, not discouraging it. This is down to labour shortages.”

Mr Parish accused the minister of claiming “it’s no problem, it wasn’t our problem” adding: “It is, I’m sorry minister.”

But Mr Foster hit back, arguing there was a “problem with uptake” and blaming employers for failing to sign up to a visa scheme to bring in workers.

Warnings of farm labour shortages have raged for months, after Brexit slammed the door on the ability of EU nationals to move to the UK and work freely.

In October, ministers performed a U-turn by allowing 800 butchers and 5,500 poultry workers  to enter the UK on short-term visas – having rejected putting them on the shortage list, to ease entry.

But Mr Foster admitted the number of butchers actually in place is under 100 – after the farm industry protested at the cost and bureaucracy of the visa system.

He criticised companies that have failed to apply to sponsor visas, telling the committee: “They could be used immediately if people wanted to do so.”

But Sheryll Murray, a fellow Tory committee member, told the minister: “We are seeing pigs slaughtered on the farm because of your slow process.”

The criticism came as a coalition of agriculture groups attacked “short-term fixes” that were failing to find a long-term solution to the supply crisis.

Dr Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association (NPA), said: “The UK pig sector is still in meltdown as worker shortages continue to impact our ability to process the number of pigs we already have on farms.”

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) demanded a commitment to avoid Britain’s self-sufficiency in food production falling from the current 60 per cent.

“Britain’s farmers are world-leaders in producing climate friendly food and, over the past 18 months, have been working hard to keep shelves and fridges full despite many being impacted by severe supply chain issues, particularly worker shortages,” said Minette Batters, the NFU president.

“Government has tried to paper over the cracks with short-term fixes but, if we want to avoid this crisis continuing, long-term solutions are urgently needed.”

Better news as Devon covid dips

Covid cases have fallen across much of Devon, after weeks of infections going up.

Ollie Heptinstall, local democracy reporter www.radioexe.co.uk

However, Devon’s director of public health urges caution as the first cases of the new Omicron variant are confirmed in the county, and reports that it may be more transmissable than Delta.

Figures for the week to Thursday 9 December show rates in Torbay and Devon County Council both fell by just under 15 per cent, but Plymouth’s went up 13 per cent.

However, the county continues to have higher rates of covid than the national average of 514 cases per 100,000 people. Devon and Torbay’s figures now stand at just over 600, while Plymouth’s is considerably higher at 865.

In the northern part of Devon, previously the most infectious area, cases have gone down significantly over the past week. Both Torridge and North Devon recorded falls of over a quarter, bringing rates closer to the county average.

Elsewhere at district level, Mid Devon and Teignbridge both had reductions in cases of more than 20 per cent. East Devon and Exeter registered single-figure percentage falls.

The most infectious district remains the South Hams, despite a small drop of just 13 cases. Its rate is 822 cases per 100,000 people.

West Devon was the only district area where cases increased, by just under 10 per cent.

It comes after the first confirmed cases of Omicron  were confirmed in Devon. Steve Brown, the county’s director of public health, said none of them are linked to foreign travel.

He added in a statement: “It was only going to be a matter of time before we saw the first Omicron cases in Devon, so this does not come as a surprise.

It will take a while before we have real world data to understand the full characteristics of the Omicron variant, but early indicators do seem to suggest that it is more transmissible than the Delta variant.

“We do expect to see the numbers of confirmed Omicron cases rise in Devon over coming weeks, and it is likely to overtake the Delta virus to become the dominant strain across the country.

“We are monitoring the data very closely and will continue to take appropriate measures to curb transmission where we see outbreak situations.”

Mr Brown is due to update Devon’s council leaders on the situation tomorrow, Thursday. 

HOSPITALISATIONS

As of the most recent data from Tuesday 7 December, 160 patients with covid are in Devon’s hospitals, an increase of 12 from last week’s figure. Sixty-nine are at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, 36 at the RD&E, 30 in Torbay, 22 in North Devon and three at Devon Partnership mental health sites.

Of the total number of patients, 16 are in ventilation beds.

DEATHS

Eleven more people died in the county within 28 days of testing positive for covid in the latest complete weekly period (up to Wednesday 8 December). Seven were in the Devon County Council area, two in Torbay and two in Plymouth.

A total of 1,388 people in Devon (including Plymouth and Torbay) have died within 28 days of a positive test since the pandemic began.

VACCINATIONS

The number of peopple aged 12 or over who have received at least one dose of a vaccine is 87 per cent in the Devon County Council area, 85 per cent in Torbay and 83 per cent in Plymouth.

The proportion of people who have had two jabs is 81 per cent in Devon, 79 per cent in Torbay and 77 per cent in Plymouth.

Case rates by age from the Devon Covid dashboard

‘The right hand doesn’t know what the right-wing hand is doing’

EDDC Leader Paul Arnott www.midweekherald.co.uk

On Wednesday, December 8, the Full Council at East Devon District met via zoom, as is now usual.

The agenda included an item about whether we should continue to meet virtually until spring next year.

The Conservative group, following direct orders from the national party, continues to make potty arguments for Full Council – all 60 of us, plus a dozen officers – to meet face to face.

Because the council chamber of the new-ish council building they commissioned when in power is so small that only 16 people can be allowed in it any one time (and the windows don’t open!), such a meeting would have to be held at Westpoint.

It’d involve having all the doors open come snow or rain this winter, and land the council with a hire bill of well over £1,000. 

Yet somehow the Conservatives, infected with the odd mixture of gung-ho, macho and arrogance of the PM and his buddy Jacob Rees Mogg, were still trying to force this really daft idea through.

I can report that they failed, but only after the comedy of a few low-grade speeches proclaiming themselves as the great tribunes of democracy, made literally at the same time as the PM was announcing, “if you can work from home, you should”. The right hand didn’t know what the right-wing hand was doing.

However, that was not the most important part of the meeting. At Agenda Item One always is ‘Public Speaking’. In essence, it is the item when anyone from East Devon can come along and say whatever they wish about the council’s business.

In December 2019, Full Council had anointed a former councillor, John Humphreys, as an Alderman, a constitutional curio which is meant to recognise the long-service of recently retired members.

In August 2021, Humphreys was sent to prison for 21 years for his repeated sexual assaults against two minors. In September 2021, Full Council withdrew his Alderman status.

Frankly, this had to be just the start of the council having a serious look at itself. 

Taking away his being an alderman was scarcely even a gnat bite. At that September 2021 meeting I said I would look further into the matter, and I did.

What I discovered, was horrific. To be very clear, the police in the present day, and the Crown Prosecution, got their man. These historic cases are very hard to prove. They did well.

Last week, though, we heard directly from one of the victims that he had done all he could to report Humphreys vile acts to the police in both 2004 and in 2012

His account of this was read in a statement for him by the ward member for his family in Exmouth, and is available to read online in full. 

His reward for making these reports was for both him and his family to be threatened by the local police, he alleged.

He also could not understand why nobody had done anything about Humphreys carrying on as a councillor beyond 2016, when he was first charged, let alone 2017 when a full file had been sent to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Were we seriously to credit that nobody connected to him politically knew this?

If nobody knew, why was his re-selection as a district councillor stopped by the Conservatives for the May 2019 elections? And why on earth did they then put his name forward to be an Alderman in December 2019?

On hearing his statement, I immediately wrote to the Chief Constable requesting that he refer his force to the Independent Office for Police Conduct with regard to the alleged behaviours by officers towards the victim 2004-15.

I also wrote to the East Devon Conservatives asking if they have launched an enquiry. It hasn’t been a week yet since I wrote and I’ll chase on Thursday.

I’ll let you know.

Whitehall frustrated that “out of touch” backbenchers are suffering “Covid Lag”

From Politico Newsletter:

There is frustration in Whitehall that Tory MPs did not grasp the arguments made to them by Johnson and Javid. Multiple figures from across the government privately blasted Tory backbenchers as out of touch with what is happening with Omicron. One Tory suggested that their MPs suffer from their own COVID “lag” — only realizing how serious things are well after everyone else. Another thought some MPs had backed themselves into a corner by publicly committing to opposing the measures before the extent of the Omicron danger became clear. 

There is also annoyance that MPs did not seem to accept that even if the vast majority of the population is vaccinated, and even if Omicron is milder, the sheer numbers mean that hospitalizations could still breach hospital capacity. Another minister said a rebellion on vaccine passports paled into insignificance when compared to the prospect of the NHS being overwhelmed: “To be honest arguments about masks and certification are out of date. The focus is on boosters and saving lives.”

No10 staff were told to leave lockdown Xmas quiz ‘by back door’

“All of you don’t want to be seen leaving having popped down to Tesco to get your drinks”

Laurie Churchman (Extract) metro.co.uk

No 10 staff were told to ‘go out the back’ after staying in Downing Street to take part in a Christmas quiz while lockdown restrictions were in place, it has been reported.

While households were banned from mixing socially under Tier 2 restrictions in London, Downing Street staff are said to have quaffed fizz and competed under team names including ‘Hands, Face, First Place’, ‘The 6 Masketeers’, and ‘Professor Quiz Whitty’.

Then at 9.39pm, No 10’s head of HR sent a message to the quiz group chat advising staff to leave ‘out the back’.

The event on December 15 last year – which the Prime Minister helped host – was held virtually, but many participants reportedly joined from the office.

The revelations, made in the The Mirror newspaper, show organisers knew days ahead some staff would be taking part in person, in an apparent breach of lockdown rules.

Official guidance at the time stated: ‘You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.’

An image published by the Sunday Mirror showed the Prime Minister flanked by colleagues, one draped in tinsel and another wearing a Santa hat, in the No 10 library.

The newspaper quoted a source who said many staff were huddled by computers in their Downing Street offices, conferring on questions and drinking alcohol.

No 10 previously said Downing Street staff were ‘often required to be in the office to work on the pandemic response’ during lockdowns – and ‘those who were in the office for work may have attended virtually from their desks’.

A Government spokesperson said: ‘Given there is an ongoing review, it would be inappropriate to comment while that is ongoing.’