Boris Johnson got to grips with chickens on a Welsh farm today – amid warnings he is playing ‘Russian roulette’ with agricultural industry.
As fears rise about No Deal, the PM inspected the poultry on Shervington Farm near Newport.
But the scene could have been timed better – coming just hours after it was revealed his communications chief Lee Cain used to dress up as a chicken while working as a journalist at the Mirror.
Mr Johnson has been trying to reassure farmers that there will be major opportunities from Brexit, and that the government will protect them from any negative fallout.
He is also expected to visit Brecon & Radnorshire – where the government faces a key test of electoral strength on Thursday amid challenges from the Lib Dems and Brexit Party.
Mr Johnson happily posed with the chickens this afternoon accompanied by local farmer Ingrid Shervington and her daughter Victoria.
He said farmers ‘will have the support they need’ after Britain leaves the EU.
‘If their markets are going to be tricky, then we will help them to find new markets. We have interventions that are aimed to support their incomes.
‘What the Government is working on now with a great deal of energy and confidence is to ensure the farming sector is totally prepared.’
Farmers had laid into the premier’s message about the potential for opening new markets outside the EU, warning that punitive tariffs on meat exports to the bloc after No Deal mean he is risking their livelihoods.
The latest leg of Mr Johnson’s tour comes as a slide in the Pound threatens to derail his tough line against the EU.
The Prime Minister inspected the poultry on Shervington Farm near Newport this afternoon
Mr Johnson happily posed with the chickens this afternoon accompanied by local farmer Ingrid Shervington (left) and her daughter Victoria
Sterling dropped to a two-year low against the US dollar and is hovering around 1.21. The tourist rate at airports is now reportedly at parity.
The latest dip was triggered after Brexit minister Michael Gove insisted No Deal was now the ‘working assumption’ of the government.
Mr Johnson seemed to try to cool the panic on a trip to Scotland yesterday, saying he still believed the likelihood of leaving without an agreement was a ‘million to one’.
Mr Johnson is outlining his strategy for helping Britain’s ‘great farmers’ as he visits South Wales.
Mr Johnson has claimed farmers will be boosted by leaving the EU’s common agricultural policy and by the UK signing new trade deals.
Mr Johnson (pictured on Shervington farm) is trying to convince farmers Brexit will bring opportunities and the government will protect them from any negative fallout
Mr Cain dressed as a chicken to follow David Cameron during the 2010 election campaign, while a Daily Mirror journalist (left). A long-term aide to Mr Johnson he is now the No 10 communications director (right)
Sterling has dropped to a two-year low against the US dollar and is hovering around 1.2
The Mirror revealed today that new No10 communications chief Lee Cain used to dress as a chicken and chase Tory politicians when he worked at the newspaper around a decade ago.
The premier was booed as he arrived for talks with Nicola Sturgeon on the Scotland leg of his trip yesterday.
What will happen during the PM’s first months in power?
Today: Boris Johnson is heading to Wales, where he will pledge to boost farmers after Brexit.
Meanwhile in London the new Brexit emergency committee chaired by Michael Gove is meeting.
August 1: Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.
Tory candidate Chris Davies is seeking to regain the seat he was ousted from by a recall petition triggered in the wake of his conviction for submitting false expenses claims. If he fails, the new prime minister’s working majority in the Commons will be cut to just three.
August 24: G7 Summit in Biarritz. The new prime minister’s first appearance at a major global summit.
Donald Trump will be among the world leaders at the gathering, potentially providing the opportunity for a meeting with the controversial US president in an effort to highlight the importance of the special relationship and a future trade deal.
September: The UN General Assembly meeting in New York will provide another opportunity for the new prime minister to appear on the global stage and set out their vision for the country’s place in the world. –
September 29 to October 2: Conservative Party Conference.
The gathering in Manchester will be a key test of the new Tory leader’s ability to unite the party and provides a platform to use their closing speech to address the nation.
October 17-18: EU summit. This is the last schedule meeting of EU leaders before the UK is due to leave the bloc – although an emergency gathering could be called before or afterwards.
October 31: The deadline for reaching a Brexit deal.
Unless there is a further extension, this will be the UK’s last day as a member of the European Union and it will leave, with or without an agreement.
Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns suggested today that new global markets, including in Japan, will be available to sheep meat producers as the Prime Minister was urged to ‘stop playing Russian roulette with the industry’.
Mr Cairns told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are now looking to the growth that will come from right around the world, 90 per cent of global growth will come from outside of the EU, but we don’t want to close our back on the European market either and that’s why working hard to get a deal is important, but of course there needs to be a shift in attitude and a positive response to the cause that we’re making.’
In the event of a no-deal, there could be a 40 per cent tariff on lamb and sheep meat exports if the UK ends up trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms.
Asked what other markets would be available to farmers by October 31, Mr Cairns said: ‘I would point to the market in Japan that has just been opened to Welsh and British sheep for example, now that is a new market for us, so exports are already taking place there, but that is a significant market for which we haven’t even scratched the surface yet.’
Asked if he was suggesting there would be a trade deal with Japan by November 1, Mr Cairns said: ‘I’m saying that Welsh sheep is already being exported to Japan, it’s a new market that was agreed earlier this year, so therefore that is a new opportunity to the sheep sector that hasn’t had that before this year.’
Mr Cairns insisted that as an independent trading nation ‘there will be these markets and these opportunities there’.
Asked what he would say to those who said they would pursue civil unrest because their exports markets would be destroyed in the event of any autumn no-deal scenario, he said: ‘New markets have already opened up and there are new protocols in place for additional markets as well.’
National Farmers’ Union (NFU) president Minette Batters said the mass slaughter of livestock was ‘absolutely something that we want to avoid at all costs’, as she queried where lamb products would go if farmers were ‘tariffed out of the EU market’.
She told Today that the ‘bottom line is we’re exporting 40 per cent of our sheep production, we are the second largest producer of sheep meat in the world, so if we are priced … we’re tariffed out of the EU market, where does that 40 per cent go?’
Ms Batters warned that ‘trade deals don’t just get picked off the shelf in a couple of months’.
She suggested that procurement arrangements could be changed, as she argued that moves aimed at opening up market opportunities in the US and China ‘isn’t happening’.
She told Today: ‘That (slaughter of livestock) is the last thing anybody would want to see happen because we want to see farmers have viable businesses at the end of this. There are things that can be done, we could go to whole British procurement across our hospitals, our schools.
Boris Johnson headed to Wales on the latest stage of his UK tour after becoming PM
‘Government buying standards, Government contracts at the moment, those are not based on British sourcing at all and they could be.
‘We could look at and should be looking right now at opening up market opportunities in China, but that isn’t happening.
‘There’s also opportunities in the United States that could be happening right now, but it isn’t happening.’
Helen Roberts, development officer for the National Sheep Association (NSA) in Wales called on Mr Johnson to ‘stop playing Russian roulette with the industry which he appears to be doing at the moment’.
She told Today: ‘If we do go out with a no-deal it will be absolutely catastrophic, even if it’s just for a few months.’
Asked about the possibility of civil unrest, including roadblocks and tractor protests, among sheep producers, she said: ‘I think they will, I think it’s time to come and stand up for ourselves and be counted.’
Mr Johnson’s sharper tone on No Deal has also drawn criticism from some senior Conservatives.
Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson met Mr Johnson in Edinburgh yesterday and made clear her opposition to leaving without an agreement.
Former work and pensions minister Baroness Altmann has claimed a group of Tory peers are prepared to resign the whip if Mr Johnson’s Government pursues a no-deal Brexit.
A YouGov poll for Cardiff University and ITV yesterday suggested the Tories has enjoyed a significant bounce in Wales since Mr Johnson took office
Speaking ahead of his visit to Wales, Mr Johnson outlined his vision for the farming sector ‘selling ever more, not just here but around the world’.
Mr Johnson said: ‘I will always back Britain’s great farmers and as we leave the EU we need to make sure that Brexit works for them.
‘That means scrapping the common agricultural policy and signing new trade deals – our amazing food and farming sector will be ready and waiting to continue selling ever more, not just here but around the world.
‘Once we leave the EU on October 31, we will have a historic opportunity to introduce new schemes to support farming – and we will make sure that farmers get a better deal.
‘Brexit presents enormous opportunities for our country and it’s time we looked to the future with pride and optimism.’
He will discuss the Government’s new approach to Brexit negotiations with Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford on the latest stop of his tour of the UK, which has included visits to Scotland, Birmingham and Manchester.
Baroness Altmann, the former director-general of insurance firm Saga, told the BBC’s Newsnight: ‘We have to do whatever we can.
‘I will not stand for leaving without a deal or continuing to threaten this irresponsible nonsense about it being fine if we lose all our free trade at a stroke.
‘I don’t want to bring down the Government, I’m hoping that the Government will recognise through the summer that this strategy is flawed, that this has no democratic mandate, and that if we want to make a success of our future then we cannot possibly contemplate throwing away 40 years of integration – putting all our small businesses at risk, losing free trade not just with Europe but all the countries we have free trade with.’