Thank to the constituents who have contacted me regarding the trade bill.
I am concerned that there is a real risk that the free trade agreement negotiated by the Government after the end of the EU withdrawal transition period will allow imports that undercut UK standards on food safety and environmental protection. Recent legislation brought forward by the Government, such as the Agriculture Bill, does not provide protection in this regard.
While the Government has consistently said it does not intend to undermine the UK’s standards, I believe it has not given sufficient commitments to back up this rhetoric. I share your particular concerns, and those of the National Farmers Union (NFU), about the undermining of UK food standards post-Brexit. Recent Government proposals on trade deals would allow imports of chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones, and other food produced below the UK’s current food standards, so long as tariffs are applied.
There is widespread opposition to these proposals, over 980,000 people have signed an NFU petition calling for UK food safety standards to be upheld. I am deeply concerned by the Government’s attempts to avoid Parliamentary oversight or review of trade agreements. The recent Trade Bill provides no role for MPs to scrutinise deals the Government might negotiate.
Legislative oversight is vital to democratic accountability and must be restored, but in this context of reduced scrutiny, I welcome attempts, such as through the NFU’s campaign, to hold the Government to account. I recently called on the government to set minimum UK food standards to protect the food industry: https://www.facebook.com/102834911085203/videos/765586367581674.
The NFU’s proposal for a Trade, Food & Farming Commission, bringing together representatives from the industry, as well as environmental groups and experts in food and farming, with the Government is a valuable one, which I would be keen to see discussed further. I believe that representation from trade unions representing workers in the sector is crucial. The undermining of food safety has wider relevance. Commentator George Monbiot, for example, has suggested that the Government’s abandonment of their promises on food and farming standards may be a slippery slope, particularly in regard to whether the United States is granted ‘market access’ to the NHS.
I can assure you that I will continue to do my utmost to hold the Government to account and push for greater scrutiny of trade negotiations in order that we can protect not only UK food standards, but the environment and our NHS too