NFU23: Sir Keir explains his vision for British farming

First published: 21 February 2023 Updated: 28 February 2023

An image of Sir Keir Starmar on stage during NFU Conference 2023

Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer made Labour’s pitch for the farming vote with a keynote speech that included pledges on national food resilience, rural services, and, notably, on the food bought by schools, hospitals, prisons and Whitehall departments.

“The next Labour government will commit to this – 50% of all food purchased by the public sector will be food produced locally and sustainably,” Sir Keir told NFU23 delegates.

“That is £1.2 billion of public money spent on quality food that is genuinely better for peoples’ health.

“And 50% is just the minimum. We will do everything to go beyond it.

“We’re committed to reforming public procurement. And seasonal, sustainable, British-grown food is a key part of it.”

"Food security is national security"

Echoing former MI5 Director General Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, Sir Keir said that “food security is national security”. 

This means that farmers need business certainty, including on labour availability, rather than “sticking plaster politics”.

He told delegates: “Sometimes, because of the sheer breadth of farming’s contribution, we can lose sight of its ultimate goal. But we need sustainable food production.”

That was especially the case in a world fundamentally changed by the Ukraine war, Sir Keir said, but it didn’t mean environmental aspirations should be pushed too far down the pecking order.

“You can have both,” the Labour leader said.

Net zero goals "tough, but right"

So the next Labour Government will commit to this: 50% of all food purchased by the public sector will be food that is produced locally and sustainably.”

Leader of the HM Official Opposition Sir Keir Starmer

The NFU’s Net Zero by 2040 aspirations were “tough, but right”, he added, as were the ‘public goods’ aims of ELMs, even if its implementation had not been.

“Environmental Land Management; I have said, it’s the right direction,” he added.

“There’s no point overturning the applecart. But where there are problems we will work with the NFU to fix them.”

He added: “Rolling these schemes out well is the difference between viable farming businesses and abandoned farms.

“We can’t have underspends, or farmers struggling whilst they wait for the right SFI standards to be announced. It’s too important, especially now.”

Labour would remove trade barriers

Sir Keir claimed that the current government had “given up” on farmers and rural communities, evidenced, he said by “that trade deal” with Australia, which he described as “a £300m hit to British farming”.

He said a Labour government would “remove barriers to exporters, not put them up” and “protect high British standards, not water them down”.

Caring for the countryside

Sir Keir vowed to reform countryside public services and to sweep aside the notion that politicians don’t respect the people they represent, and the sense that some communities had politics “done to them”.

“I know this sentiment is especially strong when it comes to farming and the countryside,” he added.

“Let me acknowledge Labour’s role in that. It’s not deliberate; we care deeply about the countryside, but all too often in the past, we have come across as the party of urban Britain.”

If rural voters were swayed, they would see “a different Labour Party”, he promised, one that would ensure there were adequate police officers to address antisocial behaviour, fly-tipping, or off-road biking in the countryside.

“We’ll get 13,000 more police into our towns and villages, more police on countryside streets,” Sir Keir said.

“Nobody should be waiting over an hour and a half for an ambulance, or get burgled time and again with no prosecutions.

“Nobody should be comfortable that mental health support is scarcely available.

“But all of this requires a different approach. One that is designed – from the start – with respect for the challenges of the countryside.”

Meet the speakers from this session

Minette Batters

NFU President

Minette runs a tenanted family farm in Wiltshire.  The mixed farming business includes a 100-cow continental cross suckler herd, as well as sheep and arable.

Diversification includes the conversion of a 17th century tithe barn into a wedding and corporate events venue, and horse liveries. Minette co-founded the campaigning initiatives 'Ladies in Beef' and the 'Great British Beef Week'.

Campaigning on behalf of NFU members about the importance of British food and farming has been a key driver for Minette throughout her time at the NFU. In 2020 she led one of the most successful petitions ever, bringing together a coalition of chefs, including Jamie Oliver, farmers, environmentalists, consumer groups and animal welfare experts – resulting in over one million people signing the NFU food standards petition. She has also regularly engaged with different media genres including appearances on Desert Island Discs, Question Time, and Any Questions.

She has been an NFU member from grassroots through to County Chair; she served as Wiltshire’s Council delegate and also as Regional Board Chair for the South West. Minette has also been a member of NFU Governance Board and served as NFU Deputy President for four years from 2014 to 2018, before being elected as president in February 2018. Minette is also an ambassador of Farm Africa and was made a Deputy Lieutenant to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth in 2021.

Officeholder responsibilities 

  • Trade and standards
  • EU and international relations
  • Taxation and fiscal policy
  • Science and research and development
  • Food supply chain (fair dealing, Markets and Authorities, competition, regulation)
  • Food service
  • AHDB
  • Levelling up
  • Education

The Rt Hon Sir Keir Starmer MP

Leader of HM Official Opposition and Leader of the Labour Party

Prior to becoming an MP, Keir was a human rights lawyer. He co-founded Doughty Street Chambers in 1990, and conducted cases in a wide range of international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights.

In 2008 Keir was appointed Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service for England and Wales, a role he held until 2013. Keir studied law at Leeds University and St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and has published several books including Three Pillars of Liberty: Political Rights and Freedoms in the UK (1996) and European Human Rights Law (1999).

Keir was first elected as the MP for Holborn and St Pancras in 2015. He lives in the constituency with his wife and two children and is an avid Arsenal fan.

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