Julian votes against government to defend UK food standards in future trade deals
May 14, 2020
During yesterday’s final House of Commons debate on the Agriculture Bill, Julian spoke and voted against the government line, by supporting an amendment requiring that food imports under future post-Brexit trade agreements meet British animal welfare, environmental and plant health 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 to Westminster is one of the most significant results of the Brexit process.The amendment, New Clause 2, was proposed by Julian’s Conservative colleague Neil Parish, Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons, the body responsible for scrutinising government activity in these important areas. Julian serves on the Environment Select Committee, and the amendment was drafted by the Committee to seek reassurance from the government.
The government was elected in December 2019 on a manifesto commitment that future trade talks would not compromise the UK’s world-leading food standards. Given the significant public support for maintaining high standards, and the need to reassure the farming and food sector that manages much of Britain’s natural environment that they will not be undercut by future cheap imports, Julian, alongside several Conservative colleagues, felt it was necessary to press the government to make a concrete legal commitment now, via amendments to the Bill.
In his speech, Julian stressed he supported the broad thrust of the Bill, which shifts state support for the sector to pay for the provision of environmental benefits like landscapes, flood defences, clean air and water, and tree planting (‘public money for public goods’), and investment in innovation and new technology, but these aims would not be achieved without securing fair terms of trade for UK producers.
He also emphasised that the vital contribution agriculture can make to reducing the UK contribution to climate change, currently producing 9% of British emissions, would be damaged by allowing the import of more goods produced in environmentally-damaging ways, such as Brazilian beef reared on cleared rainforest land.
Julian noted the new coronavirus landscape provided another strong argument for amending the Bill to give UK consumers and producers greater reassurance: “The current situation demonstrates the value of maintaining a strong UK food sector, so that our national food security does not depend on long international supply chains, which have proven fragile in such periods. The outbreak has also showcased the importance of small-scale and regional supply chains that can be relied on for food and drink when all else fails.”
After the debate, Julian said “Although the amendment was defeated, my colleagues and I sent a clear message to the government that MPs expect it to make good on its commitment to uphold our country’s high food standards in future trade negotiations, for the benefit of the UK consumer, our natural environment, and rural communities.
The impact of Covid-19 is a stern reminder of the need to maintain a strong food and farming sector in this country. I will continue to closely follow the progress of this draft law, which is so important for our region.”