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UK farming minister quits over possible Brexit delay

George Eustice says he is resigning in protest at prime minister Theresa May’s decision to allow a vote on extending the UK’s time as an EU member state.

This article is powered by EU Food Law

UK farming minister, George Eustice, has resigned his post after Prime Minister Theresa May announced there would be votes on a no-deal Brexit or a delay to leaving the bloc.

Eustice, the MP for the Cornish constituency of Camborne and Redruth, said he wanted to be free to participate in the coming weeks of critical debate. He is the 14th member of May's government to resign over Brexit.

A longstanding Brexiteer, who stood as a candidate for UKIP before joining the Conservatives, Eustice said he believed that the prime minister’s decision “will lead to a series of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country".

In January, MPs overwhelmingly rejected Therea May’s Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels. If it rejected a deal again, May said MPs will get the chance to vote on leaving the EU without a deal by March 13th.

It is quite likely that MPs will reject this, giving them the chance to vote on a “short, limited extension” to Article 50 by 14th March.

In his letter of resignation, Eustice said that he had enjoyed good relations with the European Commission and with ministers from other member states in his role at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

“If the position of Parliament is now that we will refuse to leave without an agreement then we are somewhat stuck" - George Eustice.

“However, I do not believe that the Commission has behaved honourably during these negotiations. They have deliberately made progress slow and difficult. They have stated in terms that they will refuse to even hold substantive negotiations on a future partnership until after we leave,” Eustice writes.

“If the position of Parliament is now that we will refuse to leave without an agreement then we are somewhat stuck. This is uncomfortable for everyone, but we cannot negotiate a successful Brexit unless we are prepared to walk through the door.”

Eustice goes on to say that “we must be ready to face down the European Union here and now. The absence of an agreement poses risks and costs for them too. We already know that in the event of “no deal” the EU will seek an informal transition period for nine months in many areas and settlement talks could continue within this window”.

He said he would work from the back benches of Parliament “to try to salvage this sorry situation and I hope that, when the moment comes, Parliament will not let our country down”.

Gove: "George will be missed"

Environment minister Michael Gove said he was sorry to see Eustice leave.

“He has been a brilliant minister and will remain a dear friend. He leaves an outstanding legacy, with the Agriculture and Fisheries Bills setting domestic policy for the first time in nearly 50 years. He will be very much missed," Mr Gove said.

The minister's resignation was described as a major disappointment by the Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW).

“Here was a Minister who understood farming, not just on paper but true, real-life farming. His resignation is a serious loss to all involved in agriculture at such a critical time.” FUW President Glyn Roberts said.

Country Land and Business Association president, Tim Breitmeyer, was equally disappointed by Eustice’s decision.

"He has held the position since 2015, and has maintained a strong voice on behalf of the farming industry during that time," Breitmeyer said.

“His farming background and first hand knowledge and experience have been invaluable in the many areas of his brief. The farming community has lost a key ally at this critical time for the industry, which faces significant uncertainty and change," he added.




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