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Rishi Sunak takes campaign message to fishing and farming communities

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a Q&A session during a visit to a farm in Devon, while on the General Election campaign trail (Ben Birchall/PA)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hosts a Q&A session during a visit to a farm in Devon, while on the General Election campaign trail (Ben Birchall/PA)

Rishi Sunak touted the Conservative manifesto pledge to impose a legally binding food security target in a pitch to farmers which was branded “too little too late” by his Liberal Democrat rivals.

The Prime Minister was joined by Lord David Cameron on a campaign visit in north Devon, where the Foreign Secretary warned the Lib Dems would bring “more wokery” to politics.

Both the Tories and the Lib Dems are targeting seats in rural communities across the south west which would usually be considered deep Conservative heartlands amid persistently dismal poll ratings for the ruling party.

Farmer David Chugg, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, parliamentary candidate for North Devon Selaine Saxby and Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron feed sheep
(left to right) Farmer David Chugg, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, parliamentary candidate for North Devon Selaine Saxby and Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron feed sheep (Ben Birchall/PA)

During a Q&A with farmers in North Devon, where Tory candidate Selaine Saxby is defending a majority of 14,813, Mr Sunak said: “I promise I will stand up for you, I will deliver for you and I will fight incredibly hard to deliver a better future for you and your families.”

He highlighted a Conservative manifesto pledge to enshrine a food security target in law and increase the farming budget by £1 billion.

“In the Labour manifesto, there were just 87 words about farming,” Mr Sunak said.

Speaking ahead of the Prime Minister at the event, Lord Cameron warned rural voters of backing the Lib Dems, branding Sir Ed Davey’s party “simply an echo” of Labour.

“If you vote for the Liberal Democrats, they won’t hold Labour to account,” he told the audience.

“They’re simply an echo of them. They would make them worse – more taxes, more spending, more borrowing, more wokery, more nonsense.”

Lib Dem rural affairs spokesperson Tim Farron said the Tories’ courting of farmers was “too little too late.

“This Devon dash is too little too late for Rishi Sunak.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on a boat during a visit to North Devon
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on a boat during a visit to North Devon (Ben Birchall/PA)

“Farmers and rural voters are deserting him in massive numbers,” he said.

“Farmers have been utterly taken for granted by the Conservative Party, left to cope with sky-high bills, bungled policies and botched overseas trade deals.”

The Lib Dems have also pledged to a £1 billion increase in the farming budget, while Labour says it would set a target for half of all food purchased across the public sector to be locally produced or certified to higher environmental standards.

Earlier on the visit, Mr Sunak and Lord Cameron struggled to feed sheep as they were shown round a local farm.

“Come on,” the Prime Minister said as the flock ran to the other side of the pen.

“They don’t want to play ball,” a farmer accompanying Mr Sunak remarked.

“I think they thought we were their shearers,” Mr Sunak said afterwards.

In a huddle with journalists later, the Prime Minister denied his focus on areas with large Tory majorities, such as north Devon, signalled he had given up on winning the election and resorted to running a defensive campaign.

The Conservative Party battle bus arrives at a farm in Devon
The Conservative Party battle bus arrives at a farm in Devon (Ben Birchall/PA)

“No. It’s because as I say whenever someone asks me a question like that I say the same thing which is I don’t take a single vote for granted and I’m going to be in every single part of our country talking to people about the choice at this election,” he said.

“Why have I been in the places I’ve been today in Devon?

“Well firstly, I was with fishing communities, because the choice is crystal clear at this election, the Labour Party did not mention the word fishing once in their manifesto, whereas we’ve made sure there’s an extra billion pounds of cash available for British fishing fleets… again, there’s only one party at this election that’s really on the side of British farmers… that’s what I’m doing in Devon today.”

Mr Sunak, who is defending the seat of Richmond in North Yorkshire, sought to draw a stark dividing line between his party and Labour, which has a sustained double-digit lead in the polls.

“They (Labour) just do not understand rural Britain, and I just find it incredibly upsetting, that lack of understanding of rural Britain,” he said.

“These are my neighbours, my communities in North Yorkshire.”

He dismissed suggestions that he had been running a presidential-style campaign, with Lord Cameron’s appearance on Tuesday standing out amid relatively little involvement from Cabinet ministers.

“I don’t think that’s quite fair,” Mr Sunak said.

“They’ve all been campaigning lots, right?

“Like David’s (Cameron) been out and about a lot campaigning in lots of places… Claire (Coutinho) was with me yesterday.

“Penny’s (Mordaunt) been doing the multi-party debate, right?

“So you’re seeing the full team out there doing lots of campaigning.”