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UK farmers call for more conciliatory stance at Brexit talks

BOOTHBY GRAFFOE, England (Reuters) - Britain’s government must change its strategy at Brexit talks following last week’s inconclusive general election result, taking a more conciliatory approach, Meurig Raymond, president of the National Farmers Union said on Wednesday.

Farmer David Sowray drives a combine harvester through a field on the family's 600 acre farm in Humberton, northern England, August 2, 2013. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis

“The government must ask itself, did the general election give the prime minister the mandate for the Brexit she sought. I would suggest not,” Raymond said at the arable industry’s major annual event, Cereals 2017.

Britain’s general election last week resulted in the ruling Conservative party losing its overall majority in parliament. It is seeking to continue governing with the support of Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party.

“It is time the UK government took a more collaborative and consensual approach to Brexit. In my opinion it is the only way forward,” Raymond said.

“It means taking a more conciliatory approach in the EU negotiations, working in better partnership with the EU to ensure an outcome which is mutually beneficial to both sides.”

The farmers’ leader said the most important issue for the agricultural sector was the need to ensure “continued tariff free trade and frictionless access to the single (EU) market.”

He said that could take place either through a sophisticated customs agreement or continued membership of the Customs Union.

The government minister responsible for farming has changed since last week’s election, with Michael Gove taking over from Andrea Leadsom.

Raymond said he had a 40-minute telephone conversation with Gove on Tuesday and would be meeting him on Friday.

Gove is a former education and justice minister before losing his place in the government last year. He was widely seen as a reformer whose views were often controversial.

“Whether he is going to be a reforming secretary of state I’m not too certain but we (now) have a very prominent member of the government at DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs),” Raymond said.

“He is highly ambitious. Putting that all together I believe he is going to have to champion food and farming in the months ahead and the impression I had yesterday is that he is prepared to do that so I am heartened.”

Reporting by Nigel Hunt; Editing by Mark Potter