NSA urges new Secretary of State to ensure current progress is not wasted

25th July 2019

*Updated 19th August 2019 - response received from Prime Minister.


Frustrated to have a new face at the top of Defra at such a critical time for the UK sheep sector, the National Sheep Association (NSA) is calling on the new Prime Minister and new Secretary of State to ensure recent work around Brexit is not swept aside or lost in the changeover.

Phil Stocker, NSA Chief Executive, says: “The risk of crashing out of the EU without a deal is placing the UK sheep sector is a completely unjustifiable danger. For reasons of continuity at such a difficult time, we would have much preferred for Michael Gove to have remained as Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. With Boris Johnson so new to the top job and Theresa Villiers taking on a brand new and very complex role at Defra, the absolute priority for both of them must be to ensure an orderly exit from the EU and continue the work to ensure protection is in place for the sheep sector in the worst-case scenario of a no-deal.”

NSA wrote to Mr Johnson as soon as he was confirmed at Prime Minister, highlighting the precarious position of the sheep sector as a major exporter to the EU and urging him to uphold the promise of a contingency plan and financial support in the event of a disorderly EU exit. The letter outlined where such discussions were up to and the NSA position that protection needs to be urgently confirmed as sheep farmers are already entering into the trading period that will go up to and beyond the 31st October Brexit deadline. NSA has hit the ground running, take steps already this morning to ensure Ms Villiers is brought up to speed as soon as possible.

Mr Stocker continues: “NSA met with Ms Villiers a few months ago, in response to our concerns about her extreme stance on animal welfare. We are looking forward to meeting her again soon to ensure she is as well informed as possible and can continue the work being done within Defra on several topics, including the priority issue of Brexit.

“We are keeping our fingers crossed today that Robert Goodwill, Farming Minister, stays in his post. While reasonably new to the role, Mr Goodwill will represent some continuity at this time of huge upheaval.”

NSA was somewhat perplexed to receive a standardised response from the Prime Minister, clearly missing the issue raised. NSA hopes to receive a more focused response from Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers, Farming Minister George Eustice and Minister responsible for no-deal Brexit Michael Gove, in coming days.