Now that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been invoked to begin the process of the UK leaving the European Union, negotiators on both sides are focusing on the practicalities of our future arrangements.
It was pleasing to see in the EU's initial draft position that despite the headlines there is a broad desire for a comprehensive relationship going forward which facilitates free trade and other matters of co-operation. Prime Minister Theresa May's constructive and clear approach can I think take some credit for the fact that at this point it seems both sides are aiming for much the same thing, and that is a good place to start.
Locally this is important. I spoke over the weekend at an NFU event with farmers from across the Yeovil constituency, and keeping trade smooth and working towards principles that suit our farming conditions is vital to their livelihoods. Our farming community is hard-working, and for every pound spent on agriculture £7.40 is put into the UK economy.
We talked in detail about the future of subsidies like the Basic Payment Scheme, including how a similar scheme could be administered to suit our local industry after we leave the EU. The issue of seasonal workers, important not only to the farming industry but others too, was also discussed, as well as what we are doing to make sure customs border arrangements are as efficient as possible.
Leaving the EU provides opportunities as well as challenges, and I am certain there is a great future for our farming industry with its products among the highest quality in the world. Agricultural industries in the EU also have a huge interest in maintaining their exports to the UK. In my role on the International Trade Select Committee I am bringing detail on these issues as they affect us locally directly to the attention of Ministers and industry representatives, and I will make sure the farming community's viewpoints are well heard before and during negotiations with the EU and other countries.
Young farmers must be consulted too during this process and it was great to meet a few of them in more informal circumstances this weekend at the Cotley Point-to-Point. They are the future of our farming industry and need the chance to be proud of and good at selling the food we produce, at home and abroad. We mustn't miss the opportunity to improve the industry after we leave the EU so that it is a flexible, rewarding and respected prospect for young people to get into. We need to look at industry buying structures too so that reasonable farm product prices are more the norm.
Finally a thank you to the students from Buckler’s Mead Academy who came to see me on Friday to talk about the very important ‘Send my friend to school’ campaign. This is a very worthwhile effort to make sure every child in the world has opportunities for education, and I am pleased to support it.