Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson on election trail in Chelmsford

The leader of the Lib Dems has warned farmers in Essex of the dangers she says the agriculture sector faces from a no-deal Brexit.

Jo Swinson hammered home her anti-Brexit message and the impact of a Donald Trump trade deal on a visit to an arable farm in Galleywood, Chelmsford on Tuesday, December 3.

While at the farm, owned by Christy Willett, Ms Swinson faced questions over the fallout of a senior campaign team member who was sacked in a row about forged emails.

She was also challenged over the party’s current position in the polls as well as accusations they are misleading voters with disingenous literature.

Ms Swinson used the visit to voice concerns about food standards if the UK becomes more aligned to the US and how farmers may be affected if tariffs rise.

She said: “I have been hearing from the farmer about the importance of certainty for future decision making and in particular how Brexit is worrying for farmers with the prospect of high tariffs if we end up in a no deal Brexit and also the challenges in being able to have staff to work in farms like this one or across the country.

“Liberal Democrats have a very clear message in this election. We are saying if you want to stop Brexit and build a brighter future then we have the plan to do that.

“If we do remain in the EU, we will have more money to invest in public services, in tackling the climate emergency, in giving more money to schools so we can have 20,000 more teachers, investing more in our national health service, particularly in mental health, and also our ambitious plans for free childcare to help parents who are struggling with the cost of free childcare to make sure that support kicks in from nine months when paid parental leave ends.”

She added: “I am not going to apologise for communicating with the electorate.

“I think that is hugely important and to be engaging with people whether on the doorstep or though local news letters as well.”

Chelmsford is one of six seats in the the East of England where the Green Party has agreed to step aside for the Liberal Democrats in an anti-Brexit pact.

This will allow Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Marie Goldman, who joined her party leader on the visit, a clear shot at overcoming a huge 13,000 majority held by Vicky Ford.

Many are looking with interest at Chelmsford which voted 52 per cent to leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum – a mirror of how the country as a whole voted.

Since that vote, the Lib Dems have taken control of the city council.

The seismic shift saw the Lib Dems gain 26 seats in the local elections earlier this year, while the Conservatives lost 31.

Ms Swinson added: “Not only did we beat the Conservatives and the Labour party in the EU elections earlier this year but [also] in the local elections.

“You can point to stunning successes in the East of England last year in places like South Cambridgeshire or this year in Chelmsford where we made stunning gains.”

Marie Goldman is Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Chelmsford and will be up against Conservative candidate Vicky Ford, Labour’s Penny Richards and Mark Lawrence for the Monster Raving Loony Party.

Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter