What does the 2024 General Election mean for farming?

Jul 3, 2024

With the shock announcement of a general election on July 4, the country is poised to decide on the colour of the next UK government 

But with the first televised leaders debate not featuring farming at all, it is hard to see where food production and the countryside sit in the priorities of the two main parties.  

Certainly, Sir Keir Starmer has been pulling out all the stops to try to win the rural vote ahead of the election, announcing Labour now wants to be the party of the countryside. 

Although the party’s promise to reopen the hunting debate may having some voters questioning the sincerity of that claim.  

Rishi Sunak, who represents the rural constituency of Richmond in North Yorkshire, has also spent the early months of this year telling farmers he ‘has their back’.  

He used this year’s Farm to Fork summit to discuss food security, funding for farmers and schemes designed to make careers in farming appear more attractive and sustainable.  

So, with both parties courting the rural vote, what are they promising to do for farmers and the countryside? With farming continuing its ongoing transition to ‘public money for goods’, the stakes could not be higher.  


Despite the Tories generally being regarded as the natural party of the countryside, a lot has changed since COVID. With remote working meaning people are in the office less, there has been a bit of an exodus of city dwellers into rural areas, shifting its political make-up.  

This may go some way to explaining the fact that in many rural heartlands, Labour have overtaken the Conservates, although recently polling suggests the Tories still have the farmer vote, if only by a narrow margin.  

Although Labour have not explicitly outlined their policies for farming, they have outlined five ‘bold missions’ for rural areas. These include taking action to tackle rural crime by increasing police patrols and making offenders clear up fly-tipping.  

Other pledges include a new bill to strengthen Britain’s food security and support rural growth, and a target of 50% of food in hospitals, Army bases and prisons to be sourced locally and produced to high environmental standards. 

Labour also said they would “slash Tory red tape” in the SFI scheme and seek a new veterinary agreement with Europe “to get British food exports moving again”. 

The party has also said it would not create a Scottish-style “right to roam” in England but access could be increased by reopening closed footpaths. 

However, questions remain about how they would tackle TB, whether meat production and consumption would come under greater pressure under Labour and if further legislation will be brought against traditional country pursuits.  


With Rishi Sunak representing a rural constituency, we might expect farming to play a key role in his manifesto. Whereas this, and those of the other parties, are yet to be announced, the Prime Minister did outline a number of key measures at this year’s Farm to Fork summit in May.  

These include a commitment to ‘safeguard our ability to maintain high environmental, animal welfare and food standards in new trade agreements’. 

“There will be no chlorine-washed chicken and no hormone-treated beef on the UK market. Not now, not ever,” Mr Sunak announced.  

Other key pledges include: 

  • £2m to increase the UK’s presence at international trade shows 
  • The appointment of five more agri-food attachés around the world 
  • A promise to provide 45,000 visas for overseas workers to work in the horticulture sector in 2024 
  • Up to £30m to drive forward the use of precision breeding technologies 
  • The launch of new reviews into supply chain fairness for the horticulture and egg sectors 
  • A commitment that the Groceries Code Adjudicator will not be merged with the Competition and Markets Authority 
  • An expansion of the EU Fruit and Vegetable Producer Organisation Scheme when it closes in 2026 
  • Easing planning rules to encourage new glasshouses and farm diversifications 
  • Accelerating work on water supply infrastructure. 

Not set in stone 

Despite the promises made in the run up to the election, Ian Parker, agricultural tax expert at Whitley Stimpson said nothing is set in stone until the parties release their manifestos.  

He said:

Labour have clearly been trying to establish themselves as the friend to rural communities and farmers, and whereas some of their rhetoric is certainly getting through, it remains to be seen how farmer-friendly they actually are. Certainly, the experience of Welsh farmers should give pause for thought among their English counterparts should Keir Starmer lead the next UK government. Unsurprisingly, as the governing party, the Tories have more developed policies around farming and the countryside, but after 14 years of Tory rule, many people will be willing to take a chance and vote for change. As we edge closer to the election and the party manifestos emerge, we will have a much clearer picture of exactly what each party is promising. Only then will the countryside be in a position to make up its mind as to which party genuinely has its best interests at heart.” 

Among the other parties, the Liberal Democrats have promised to inject an extra £1bn a year into the UK agricultural budget but have been accused of simply ripping off the NFU’s election manifesto, and Reform UK says it would scrap climate-related farming subsidies and bring back direct support. 

Contact us

To speak to Ian on tax planning, cash flow management, or diversification, get in touch on (01295) 270200 or email ianp@whitleystimpson.co.uk. 

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