Essex Farming Conference: ‘Politics is brutal’, says ex-farming minister Sir James Paice

Sir James Paice, the recently-ousted Farming Minister, was frank about his disappointment at being sacked after two years in the role when he spoke at the Essex Agricultural Conference at Writtle College on Wednesday.

The veteran Tory politician, who grew up in Essex and Suffolk and is MP for South East Cambridgeshire, became the victim of a major Cabinet cull in September which also saw the departure of his boss, Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman. However, the blow was softened when he was subsequently awarded a knighthood.

“I don’t think you realise how flat out you have been until you stop and, in that regard, I’m enjoying taking life at a slightly slower pace.

“Obviously, it was quite a shock,” he admitted on Wednesday. “But that’s politics – it’s brutal.”

He added: “I’m very dsappointed that I was not able to finish some of the projects I was engaged in and embed some of the changes I was trying to embed.”

Before his sudden departure, Sir James was leading the work on Common Agricultural Policy reform, but had to pass the baton to his successor, David Heath.

His frustration at not being able to see through the projects he started is clear.

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He was also working on cutting red tape in farming, and trying to help the UK food industry to grow, especially through exports.

He is concerned that, under CAP reform proposals, “Pillar 2” funding for agri-environment measures will be cut, and that this will be to the detriment of British farmers and the environment.

But he has “little doubt”, he says, that the role of farming is going to become more and more important in the coming decades.

He believes food price rises will accelerate, having been on the rise for the past few years. The trend is even more pronounced in the UK for a variety of reasons, he said.

“I think food price rises are going to be a feature of life,” he said.

He also warned that the drive for renewable energy should not result in anomalies where the damage initiatives cause outweighs the benefits. “I just find it absurd we seem to be more concerned with meeting targets than making sure what we are doing is environmentally correct,” he said.