minette batters 2021 16

Source: NFU 

Batters will sit as a non-party political, cross-bench peer once sworn in at the House of Lords

Former NFU president Minette Batters looks set to re-enter the food sector fray after she was appointed a life peer in parliament’s dissolution peerages.

Batters stood down after six tumultuous years as NFU president in February, having been a forceful advocate for the food and farming sector, particularly in Whitehall.

Speaking to The Grocer in the wake of Labour’s landslide general election result on Friday morning, Batters revealed she had been notified of and accepted her peerage in a personal phone call with the now-former prime minister Rishi Sunak yesterday.

She will sit as a non-party political, cross-bench peer once sworn in at the House of Lords.

Her appointment and likely focus on the food sector in the Lords would give her the chance “to keep an interest in something I’m passionate about”, Batters said.

“I would never have taken a political role,” she added, echoing her insistence on her departure from the NFU that she had no interest in becoming an MP, and the NFU’s own apolitical stance.

It comes as the UK was this morning digesting the results of Labour’s huge electoral victory, with new PM Keir Starmer minister expected to begin appointing his cabinet on Friday afternoon.

At the time of writing – with just two constituencies to declare – Labour had won 412 seats, up 211 on the last election in 2019 – giving it an unprecedented majority of 174 seats. The Conservatives lost 250 seats, bringing the total number of Tory MPs in parliament down to just 121.

Commenting on the lack of detail on Labour’s plans for food and farming in its manifesto, Batters said she had already spoken to Steve Reed – the expected new environment secretary.

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That lack of focus on the sector, with the word ‘food’ mentioned eight times and ‘farming’ just five times, was “not enough”, Batters said.

“They did say food security is national security and now they need to deliver on that,” she urged.

“The Tory manifesto [and its pledge to set legally-binding security targets] was a landmark move for them, so we absolutely need to see that statutory underpinning [from the new Labour government],” she said.

“If Labour is to deliver it needs to work fast. There is lots to do in terms of changing the trajectory that has been more about the environment and less about food production – it needs to be about both.”

Elsewhere, Labour’s expected food and farming minister Daniel Zeichner retained his seat in Cambridge, as did Steve Reed in Streatham and Croydon North.

However, a series of current and former Tory Defra ministers were defenestrated by their electorates, including the most recent farming minister Mark Spencer and  environment minister Rebecca Pow.

One of the most eye-catching Tory losses was for ex-PM and environment secretary Liz Truss – who saw a 24,180 majority swing to a loss to Labour by 630 votes. 

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Fellow ex-Defra secretaries Thérèse Coffey, Ranil Jayawardena and Theresa Villiers also lost their seats, as did former farming minister Victoria Prentis.

It comes as the NFU today said it was “looking forward to working with the new government”, with president Tom Bradshaw describing the election result as a “reset moment for British agriculture”.

“Labour’s manifesto recognised that food security is national security, but it is business confidence which forms the foundation of this,” he added.

“With British farmers and growers ambitious for the future, what they – and the public – need are practical policies that revitalise farm business confidence and deliver on our shared mission of food security,” Bradshaw said.

“In a cost of living crisis, our ability to provide affordable, climate-friendly and high-welfare food will be critical for families across the country, as well as underpinning the UK’s largest manufacturing sector, food and drink, and stimulating economic growth.”