Ministers have come under fire for using arcane parliamentary rules to block an attempt to prevent poor-quality food imports like chlorinated chicken in a UK-US trade deal.
The Government is using an old-fashioned procedure to block an amendment to the Agricultural Bill when it comes before MPs tomorrow.
It would give new, stronger powers to an independent, permanent, Trade and Agriculture Commission to scrutinise any accords before they are signed and reject those which are not up to scratch.
But ministers are to argue that such a move would impose an extra cost on the taxpayer, which would make it something called a Money Resolution. These cannot be introduced by the upper chamber.
Crossbench peer Lord Curry of Kirkharle, who put forward the amendment and saw it approved in the Lords, told the Independent the extra cost would have been ‘minuscule’.
‘It’s unbelievable and a huge mistake by the government,’ he said.
‘I can’t think of an issue in recent times which has so much public support. For the government not to recognise that, by not allowing my amendment, is really disappointing.’
The move was also attacked by Neil Parish, the Tory chairman of the Commons environment committee, who said: ‘The government should allow a vote. These are really important matters for the future of food and farming.’
Crossbench peer Lord Curry of Kirkharle (left), who put forward the amendment and saw it approved in the Lords, told the Independent the extra cost would have been ‘minuscule’. The move was also attacked by Neil Parish (right), the Tory chairman of the Commons environment committee, who said: ‘The government should allow a vote’
Environment Secretary George Eustice (pictured) told the Daily Mail he would not support the amendment
Calls to enshrine British farming standards in law were rejected by the Government this weekend.
On Monday MPs will bvote on a second amendment that stipulates food products imported under future trade deals meet or exceed UK domestic standards.
But Environment Secretary George Eustice told the Daily Mail he would not support the amendment.
And he said ministers expect MPs to reject it despite lobbying from environmental and farming groups and celebrities.
The groups see the amendment as a guarantee that UK farmers cannot be undercut by foreign producers with lower standards after the Brexit transition expires in January.
Mr Eustice insisted the amendment was unnecessary and would cause ‘technical issues’ over existing trade terms with some South American countries.
He said there were ‘difficulties, practically, in putting these sorts of amendments into primary legislation’, adding: ‘There’s a small amount of access for some products, including beef from South America at the moment. Not all of them would necessarily meet our standards, but it’s relatively small quantities.’
He insisted chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef would not be permitted under any trade deal with the US. He said importing such products was illegal and would remain so. And he urged voters to trust the Tory manifesto commitment to protect food standards.
Mr Eustice said the UK was the third largest food market in the world after China and Japan, putting the UK in a ‘powerful position to dictate access’.
He said: ‘We can make sure that we retain consumer confidence in any imports that come in here.
‘And it’s also in the interest of producers in these other countries like Australia and the US, if they want to come in and have a good reputation, and for there to be consumer confidence in their products, it’ll be very important that they work with us to ensure that they produce to our standards that our consumers will accept.’
But Emily Thornberry, Labour’s trade spokesman, said Mr Eustice was neglecting his responsibilities.
‘His whole job is to represent the interests of British farmers and he must stand up for them now against cut-price competition from American mega farms with minimal standards of animal welfare,’ she said.
‘Is he really prepared to tell our farmers they have to compete with cheap imports of beef and pork that would be illegal for them to produce here at home?
‘That cannot be right, which is why he must do his job, listen to reason, and write into law that imports from the US can only be sold in Britain if they meet the same standards our farmers are required to meet.’
Minette Batters, of the National Farmers’ Union, warns of the risk of a ‘race to the bottom’.
Writing in today’s Mail, she says: ‘The Government, so far, has refused to countenance amendments to the bill that would enshrine in law vital safeguards to protect us from a surfeit of cheap, sub-standard imported food from other countries with whom we may agree a post-Brexit trade deal.
‘We farmers worry Boris Johnson is fundamentally indifferent to the importance of British food production. I can only hope that the NFU’s 50,000 members are not being lined up like Texas longhorns for eventual sacrifice to the prize of a wider Anglo-American trade deal.’