While the UK was expecting a general election later this year, prime minister Rishi Sunak caused something of a surprise with his announcement on Wednesday that it would happen on 4 July.

Irish voters are currently being wooed by a myriad of candidates seeking election to either the local council or the European Parliament.

While there are similarities in some issues between the UK and Irish jurisdictions, there are also contrasts and pursuit of the farming vote is very much in this category.

In Ireland, chasing the farming and rural vote is front and centre for all candidates, whether it is for local or EU elections.

For the European Parliament, Irish Farmers Journal hustings were exceptionally well attended, with all significant candidates participating and laying out their case.

Everything including the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), the nitrates derogation and a multitude of other issues that will affect farming and rural dwellers were debated in detail.

Voters who attended will be thoroughly informed on candidates’ positions before they cast their ballot.

Agriculture not an election issue

In the UK, agriculture will not feature prominently in the national campaign.

It will receive attention at a local level in the more rural constituencies, which include southwest and eastern England, plus large parts of Wales and Scotland.

It will be a peripheral issue in Northern Ireland, but here the electorate will vote primarily on the constitutional position of the candidates.

Agriculture policy in the UK is devolved to the regional parliaments, although these are constrained by the budget allocation which comes from central government in Westminster.

Put bluntly, that means a regional administration such as the Northern Ireland Executive could develop the most imaginative agricultural policy, but not be in a position to implement it if it required resources and there isn’t a sufficient budget.

To get additional financial resources, central government has to be lobbied successfully and another reality is that agriculture is close to the bottom of the list, with health and education being top priorities for resources.

EU relationship

The last general election in the UK was in December 2019 and then-prime minister Boris Johnson campaigned under the slogan of “Get Brexit done”.

That was accomplished, with the UK departing the EU single market at the start of 2021, but the trading relationship with the EU and managing the relationship on the island of Ireland was problematical.

A working relationship was arrived at by the current prime minister, but there is a widely held belief that a smoother relationship could be arrived at with a change of government.

However, none of the main parties want to revisit Brexit as an election issue, but if the opposition Labour party is elected, then there is every chance of a veterinary deal with the EU that would eliminate a large part of the bureaucracy for the trade of plant and animal origin goods.