Trouble with sheep

In difficult times it is good to know that all levels of government  are working tirelessly to help businesses both large and small.

I wish!

In reality it is all too often the exact opposite as the latest EU nonsense demonstrates.

The bEUrocrats have got it into their heads that all sheep should be electronically tagged so that they can more easily be traced when moved so helping prevent the spread of disease.

This may sound like a perfectly sensible plan – but it’s not.  There’s a perfectly adequate scheme already in place and the new EU regulations will add considerably to farmers’ costs for a system they say will not work on the ground.   EU officials have just been on a week long trip to Britain to consider the problems.   Yet, as the National Sheep Association (NSA), explains:

It is so frustrating that the EU officials when pushed are still not able to identify a single animal disease situation where individual recording of sheep identities would reduce disease spread. All we have shoved down our throats as a sheep industry is that this is all about coping better with disease outbreaks yet no one can tell the sheep farmers who will have to live with it how it will make a difference.

So there’s the plan:  impose a scheme that will cost a ruinous amount of money, will not work in practice and has no useful purpose. 


The NSA concede that Defra and the government are  not keen to see these regulations introduced but they are clearly not in the driving seat.  Other EU member states recognise that the regulations would harm some of their rural areas but do not have such an important sheep industry so this is not high on their agenda.

Now I have no connections to farming whatsoever so I have no personal axe to grind, but it stikes me that these sheep are like the proverbial canary in the coal mine – so to speak!   They are flashing us a warning.

Firstly, government has no business to be taking away someone’s livelihood (even if only by carelessness or negligence) without a strong overriding reason – usually that what they are doing is criminal, dangerous or similar.   In this instance it’s the EU in the frame but just as often it’s Whitehall or a local authority – for instance by imposing parking charges on the high street without at the same time imposing them on supermarkets and out of town shopping centres. 

Secondly, this is yet another example of the ‘big is beautiful/might is right’ philosophy that has taken over New Labour.  As we have seen, they can be very fast to act when it’s Big Banks, Big Oil, Big Auto etc. but who is to speak for the rest of us?  It may be ‘only’ sheep farming today, but tomorrow it will be some other sector, and another the day after, and …

Thirdly, it gives the lie to the promised principle of subsidiarity that is supposed to guide the EU (the idea that things should be done by the lowest practical tier of government).  If subsidiarity were indeed a principle then please someone explain why it is absolutely necessary for policy with respect to sheep to be made in Brussels.   Air pollution I could understand, but sheep!

Each of these points in its own way conflicts with every Liberal principle I know so that leaves a strong message for Lib Dems MPs and MEPs.

  1. Wake up and smell the coffee. 
  2. Stop this bad scheme.
  3. If you can’t stop it then campaign vigorously against it and explain to the rest of us what you propose to do about the democratic deficit this would reveal.
  4. If you can’t do (2) or (3) then expect to loose votes to UKIP.

For the avoidance of doubt I should perhaps explain that I strongly support the ideal of a European Union – but one that is devolved and democratic and actually puts people first which is very far from what we have now.

So, rather than cheer-leading for the existing nonsense, can we please have some constructive thinking on what sort of Liberal EU constitution we would like to see.  I don’t for a minute suppose that anything we might come up with would appeal to the conservative and socialist groups but you never know – if we have a plan and they don’t we are in a very strong position to push for it.


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