As a convoy of tractors lined up outside the English port town of Dover on Friday evening, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage declared: “It’s started.”
The demonstration, involving around 30 tractors driven by farmers angered by cheap imports, was however not even close to the scale of those taking place across the Continent; in France, Spain, Romania, Poland and elsewhere. But it has at least posed the question of whether more action is likely to come.
Is Farage being too optimistic about the scope for a populist agrarian revolt in Great Britain? Even without the provocation of European Union regulations, British farmers sense a growing existential threat to their way of life. Organisers of the Dover protest said future demonstrations “cannot be ruled out.”
Farmers are particularly critical of trade deals established by post-Brexit Conservative governments, especially under Boris Johnson, which will ultimately remove all tariffs and trade taxes from the export of goods—including lamb and beef—from countries such as New Zealand and Australia. Tory administrations have celebrated such deals as key to the “top strategic trade priority of using our voice as a new independent trading nation.” Farmers say they have created an “utterly soul-destroying” situation.
Complaints do not, of course, stop here. There is increasing frustration over net zero schemes leading to “bonkers” pricing of such goods as straw. Meanwhile, both the monetary value of subsidies and the official attention they receive are “a long way behind” the government’s formal commitment to them.
The European Conservative’s Sebastian Morello said it is clear that “the UK farming community is demoralised.”
Many are selling their land off to developers. The suicide rate among them is high. And many miss the days of living reasonably well from the EU subsidies that they received for so many years.
The English countryside, for which the country is so famous, looks to suffer enormously in the coming decades.
He added, however, that “for my part, I think it unlikely that UK farmers will protest.”
A scroll down the Facebook page of the publication Farmers Weekly brings up dozens of farming leaders who say “we will fight to the bitter end” to simply “continue farming the land” they have farmed for years, often over generations. But a writer in the paper pointed out that there are a number of “barriers” to protests; not least the need for “clearly defined goals” to take to the government and “a trigger to convince people that now is the time to make the effort to protest.”
What is clear is that politicians wearing wheat-sheaf badges and insisting that “we firmly back our farmers” will not be enough to quieten growing concerns. It’s also clear that small—or large but one-off—demonstrations will continue with limited attention from the national press. Whether these explode as they have elsewhere, to the extent that “our streets will too soon see tractor blockades,” remains to be seen.