The NFU has expressed shock after the High Court ruled in favour of the government's decision to not grant Derbyshire a badger cull licence.
In September 2019, then Defra Secretary Theresa Villiers issued a direction to Natural England forbidding the issue of a licence to cull badgers in the county.
The direction was unexpected by the farming industry and was issued on the eve of operations starting in Derbyshire.
Judgement was handed down on Wednesday 13 May, and the NFU's judicial review challenge was dismissed on all grounds.
Deputy president Stuart Roberts said the union is 'shocked' and 'dismayed' at the decision of the High Court.
He said the actions of the government last September amounted to a 'complete U-turn' on established government policy.
"The eleventh-hour direction was made against absolutely all the scientific and veterinary advice and left farmers in the Derbyshire area, who met all the licence criteria, completely devastated.
"Many of them had seen this cull as their last hope at dealing with this awful disease which has been devastating their cattle herds and crippling their business for years," he said.
Affected farmers have invested a significant amount of time and money applying for a licence. The NFU said they are entitled to have their application 'dealt with fairly'.
Bovine TB is a devastating disease that is causing hardship for family farming businesses across large parts of the country.
The impact of the decision to abandon the cull at the last minute has left affected farmers across Derbyshire in despair.
"What happened to them has completely undermined their confidence in government policy," Mr Roberts explained.
In the judgement, Mrs Justice Andrews said that farmers in the Derbyshire area had satisfied all of the government’s requirements for a licence and ‘had every reason to anticipate a licence being issued’.
However, they were only to be told at the last minute that they would not be issued a licence ‘for reasons that were not canvassed with them in the course of the application process’.
Mr Roberts added: “Nonetheless, she said that this U-turn was not unlawful because the government was allowed to prevent Natural England issuing the licence for ‘political’ reasons.
“Today’s judgement will have a chilling effect on farmers looking to engage with government on TB policy in the future.
"If the government’s arguments in this case are right and it can disregard its own policies at the final second, how can farmers ever trust again that the government will do what it says it will?
“We are considering our next options with our legal team and with the affected farmers in Derbyshire.”
The case was supported by the NFU’s Legal Assistance Scheme and NFU legal panel firm Bowcock Cuerden LLP, alongside the NFU’s in-house Legal Affairs team.
Counsel in the case were Maya Lester QC and Malcolm Birdling of Brick Court Chambers.