The UK Independence Party, according to the manifesto which won it 12 seats in the recent European Parliament elections, ‘is the only party to support free and fair trade for a free country’. The document goes on to assert that the EU is preventing us trading with the rest of the world and that the Common Agricultural Policy is needlessly adding to the cost of the food on consumers’ plates. This would all be very well if the Ukip manifesto didn’t go on to propose even more subsidy and protection for British farmers. ‘UK agriculture cannot compete with imported produce which enters the country at significantly lower prices ...we would support negotiations to limit imports, not only from non-EU states but also from EU countries. To suit the needs of our own agriculture, we would wish to see levies and quotas to restrict imports which are damaging to our agricultural and consumer interests.’ Some commitment to free trade, that is. In what way would it benefit consumers if they were prevented from buying the food they wished to buy simply on the grounds that it was foreign? Ukip doesn’t say, other than to suggest that keeping out agricultural imports is ‘desirable as a health measure’. The manifesto goes on to claim that foreign nosh causes foot-and-mouth, but strangely no mention is made of BSE.
Laughably, Ukip’s manifesto then suggests that taxpayers’ money should be spent on marketing British food abroad — without stopping to wonder whether other nations, having been banned from exporting their food to us, might not be so keen to allow our farmers to export to them. Bizarrely, Ukip has one further suggestion on farming: ‘We believe that the current ministry of agriculture, fisheries and food should be abolished and replaced by a department of agriculture and rural affairs.’ That is exactly what the government did a couple of years ago. Let’s not write off entirely a party which gained 18 per cent of the popular vote in the European elections; but some editing of its manifesto might be required.