Rishi Sunak promises to lead 'pro-farming Government' if he becomes Prime Minister

Rishi Sunak said he will lead “the most pro-countryside, pro-farming Government” the country has ever seen, if he becomes the next Prime Minister.

Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak speaking at a hustings event in Leeds
Conservative leadership candidate Rishi Sunak speaking at a hustings event in Leeds

The Conservative leadership contender made the pledge before the first of 12 Conservative hustings last night, when party members in Leeds questioned him and his rival Liz Truss.

Mr Sunak, who is also the MP for Richmond, said he will support farmers and rural communities which are often overlooked by Westminster.

It comes after Minette Batters, President of the National Farmers Union, wrote to the candidates, to say the next Prime Minister must work to ensure the UK maintains “current levels of self-sufficiency and food production”.

Liz Truss vowed to build Northern Powerhouse Rail "in full" if she becomes Prime Minister

She called for post-Brexit subsidies which support sustainable food production, an immigration system which “recognises the specific needs” of agriculture and horticulture businesses and a guarantee that future trade deals will not result in British farmers being undercut by overseas competitors with lower standards.

“As Prime Minister, I will ensure that we have the most pro-countryside pro-farming Government that we’ve seen,” Mr Sunak told The Yorkshire Post.

“Based on my own experience at home where I’m surrounded by fantastic farmers, I understand the challenges and opportunities of living and working in rural Yorkshire.

“The Government in Westminster doesn’t always understand that, but I do.”

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He added: “I want to make sure that we support our fantastic farmers, we improve food security, and we get things like broadband and mobile signal out to rural areas, so that everyone there can have fantastic opportunities to grow their businesses.”

At the hustings at the Elland Road Conference Centre, Ms Truss vowed to “help the brilliant farmers of Yorkshire” by “removing red tape” to help them sell their food around the world.

Both candidates faced questions on a wide range of topics, from taxes and rising energy bills, to the war in Ukraine and Boris Johnson.

Mr Sunak vowed to restore trust in the Conservative Government and win the next election, and “rebuild the economy”.

The former Chancellor said inflation is the “number one challenge” that must be tackled before taxes can be lowered, and he will not “embark on a spree of tens of billions of pounds of unfunded promises”.

Ms Truss promised to introduce costed tax cuts to stimulate economic growth, before paying down the debt, set up low tax zones in areas of West Yorkshire, stand up to Vladimir Putin and increase defence spending to three per cent of GDP.

She has also vowed to revert back to the original multi-billion pound plan for Northern Powerhouse Rail, which would see services run on new high-speed lines from Liverpool to Leeds, via Manchester and a new station in Bradford.

In November, the Government sparked a backlash when it scaled back the project, and announced it would only build one new line between Warrington and Marsden and then upgrade the existing Transpennine Route.

Ms Truss said delivering the project in full is “absolutely crucial for the future of the North of England”, while Mr Sunak refused to make the same commitment, but agreed the project should be reviewed.

Her rival said he will “engage with the local leaders in the North on delivering NPR” and “figure out the case for delivering a new station in Bradford”.

Before the hustings, she said: “I have committed to Northern Powerhouse Rail going ahead.

“I will immediately, upon becoming Prime Minister, work with my new transport secretary and bring all the local groups together – the councils, the mayors and the MPs – to create a plan to move forward on this really important project.”

However, the Foreign Secretary will not revert to the old plans for HS2 and ensure the line reaches Leeds.