UK farmers in tractors head to Parliament to protest rules they say threaten livelihoods

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Farmers take part in a tractor "go-slow" through Parliament Square, Westminster, London, Monday, March 25, 2024. Farmers are driving dozens of tractors in a slow-motion convoy towards Britains Parliament to protest post-Brexit rules and trade deals that they say are endangering livelihoods and food security. (Jordan Pettitt/PA via AP)

LONDON – Farmers drove dozens of tractors in a slow-motion convoy towards Britain’s Parliament on Monday to protest post- Brexit rules and trade deals that they say are endangering livelihoods and food security.

Supporters of the campaign groups Save British Farming and Fairness for Farmers of Kent rolled from southeast England and through southern districts of the capital, bound for Parliament Square, where dozens of supporters waited to welcome them.

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A line of tractors flying Union Jack flags or signs reading “Stop substandard imports” snaked along the River Thames and towards the Houses of Parliament before circling Parliament Square to cheers and honking horns.

Britain has so far not seen large-scale farmers’ protests like those that have snarled cities in France and other European countries. Farmers from across the 27-nation European Union have protested against what they see as unnecessary bureaucratic rules, clean-air and soil targets and unfair competition from abroad that, they say, is driving them toward bankruptcy.

U.K. agriculture has been heavily affected by Britain’s exit from the EU, which took Britain out of the bloc’s free trade zone and complex web of farming rules.

Many British farmers backed Brexit out of opposition to the EU’s much-criticized Common Agricultural Policy. But now many say post-Brexit trade deals between the U.K. and countries including Australia and New Zealand have opened the door to cheap imports that are undercutting British producers.

Organizers also criticize labeling that allows products to bear a Union flag when they have not been grown or reared in Britain.

The U.K. has also delayed checks on imports that were due to begin after the country’s final break with the EU at the end of 2020, a move farmers say threatens biosecurity.

Liz Webster, a beef and arable farmer from western England who is one of the protest organizers, said the government had “totally betrayed us all.”

“Polling shows that the public back British farming and food and want to maintain our high food standards and support local producers,” she said. “We need a radical change of policy and an urgent exit from these appalling trade deals which will decimate British food.”

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