Julian helps deliver government concessions on UK food standards in Agriculture Bill
November 6, 2020
Having rebelled against the government in successive votes on the Agriculture Bill to demand stronger guarantees on the protection of UK food standards against lower-grade imports in future trade agreements, Julian has welcomed concessions by Ministers to strengthen independent scrutiny of the effect of trade deals, and create a legal duty on government to report to Parliament on whether agreements are consistent with British standards.
The Agriculture Bill creates the first independent UK farming and environmental policy for 47 years, as these matters have largely been decided at European level during the period of EU membership. The return of these powers is one of the most significant results of the Brexit process.
Alongside several Conservative MPs, Julian voted against the government line and in favour of amendments to require food imported under new post-Brexit trade agreements to meet UK standards in both May and October this year, which emboldened the House of Lords to continue pressing Ministers to enhance the Bill’s protection for British producers from lower-standard imports. He also voted against the government in July in support of an amendment to the Trade Bill (which creates the tools for the government to run an independent UK trade policy post-Brexit) requiring both Houses of Parliament to approve draft negotiating objectives and the text of trade agreements.
In response to this firm lobbying, Ministers have this month conceded that the independent expert Trade and Agriculture Commission created to advise the government on trade policy will report on the effect of every trade agreement on animal welfare and farming, and this report will be laid before Parliament to inform its scrutiny of the agreement before this formal process begins. This watchdog’s lifetime will also be extended from 6 months to being reviewed every 3 years, and its role will be written into law.
In addition, the government also proposed its own amendment to the Agriculture Bill, placing itself under a legal obligation to report to Parliament on whether a trade deal upholds UK standards, ahead of or at the same time as the deal text is laid before Parliament.
As a result of these concessions by government, Julian felt able to support the government in House of Commons votes on Wednesday considering the latest proposed changes to the Bill from the House of Lords, and will now look to press for similar changes to the Trade Bill.
After the votes, Julian said: “I have always backed the overall aims of the Bill, vital as it is for the future of our environment and national food supply, and am reassured the concerns I have raised around upholding standards, which I know are shared by many local residents, have been responded to by the government.
Given the complexity and professional knowledge required to compare food standards and ensure fairness, I am currently satisfied that an expert independent watchdog in the form of the Trade and Agriculture Commission is a good means to protect UK standards, and will be well able to sound the alarm if any trade talks take a concerning turn. I also welcome the government’s creation of a legal duty on itself to report on whether deals it signs uphold our world-leading standards.
I will continue to keep this area under careful review, and will now look to the Trade Bill, and amendments coming from the House of Lords, to seek further government compromises on protecting UK standards, and ensuring robust scrutiny by Parliament.”