NFU 'cheat' members on Brexit

the national FARMERS UNION has been accused of cheating its members after the organisation announced it was backing the campaign to remain in the EU.

Vote Leave's campaigns director Dominic Cummings.

Dominic Cummings, Vote Leave’s campaign director and head of communications Paul Stephenson said they doubted the NFU had fairly represented its 55,000 members views when they devised their formal view that the agricultural sector would have a better deal within the union.

They blamed the influence of large land owners on the NFU, who are substantial beneficiaries of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP, for swaying their official stance.

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The comments came as the Vote Leave campaign hosted Justice Secretary Michael Gove, who gave his first major speech on the benefits of leaving the EU in Central London.

Justice Secretary, Michael Gove and chairman of the Vote Leave campaign. Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Mr Stephenson said they had been surprised by the NFU’s decision announced on Monday because their membership “was completely split” on the issue.

He said: “It feels like the bigger land owners have got their way.

Mr Cummings added: “How influential is the Duke of whatever and Lord of whatever who are all making millions of quid via the CAP in the NFU? They’re very influential.”

The NFU commissioned two reports on the EU and held meetings with members around the region in early April to consult on the referendum.

Justice Secretary, Michael Gove and chairman of the Vote Leave campaign. Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

The NFU Council announced they would not be actively campaigning, or tell members how to vote, but “on the balance of existing evidence” the interests of farmers are “best served by our continuing membership of the European Union”.

Mr Cummings however said: “All these organisations cheat at opinion polls in order to get their say and the NFU is no different.”

A spokeswoman for the NFU disputed large landowners had undue influence.

She said their council is made up of members covering “all sectors and business sizes”, and Electoral Commission rules mean they were required to register their view to enable it to continue to carry out its role of informing members of the issues as they affect farmers.

Mr Gove said he acknowledged that British farmers get money back from the EU, but that “we don’t control exactly where it goes” and how efficiently it is allocated to those who really need it.

He described Britain’s potential exit from the union has being highly influential to other member states.

He said: “There will be a contagion if Britain leaves the EU. But what will be catching is democracy. Our vote to leave will liberate and strengthen those voices across the EU calling for a different future -those demanding the devolution of powers back from Brussels and desperate for a progressive alternative.”

Britain would also be able to take its time following a leave vote, he said, and there should be no abrupt changes to trading, nor should Article 50 be invoked.

Downing Street has said the Prime Minister will trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, beginning the two-year process to quit the EU, straight after a leave vote.

But Mr Gove said: “It would not be in any nation’s interest artificially to accelerate the process and no responsible government would hit the start button on a two-year legal process without preparing appropriately.”

He said a continental free trade deal was the simplest plan for Britain and there is no need to hanker after the single market.