A fortnight ago saw the return of the Government’s post-Brexit Trade Bill for its final stages in the House of Commons. The highly-debated legislation, saw the Labour Party introduce several amendments that sought to strengthen the Bill. Capturing most of the attention was ‘New Clause 17’ which would have excluded the NHS from trade negotiations with the Trump Administration. But Labour’s amendment saw defeat by 340 votes to 251.
The Labour Party also introduced another amendment that would seek additional agricultural welfare protections to the Bill. ‘New Clause 11’, would have barred any food imports unless they were produced with “as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law”. This reasonable amendment was also defeated.
In justifying their actions, government Ministers, say that these sensible amendments were not needed – as they have maintained that no element of the NHS will be up for grabs in a future trade deal – rubbishing the idea as ‘spurious’ claims and ‘scaremongering’ by Labour.
Luke Pollard MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport said:
“We know that the Trump administration wants to get the best trade deal possible for the US healthcare and pharmaceutical industry. ‘New Clause 17’ explicitly sought to exempt the NHS from any trade deal. The Conservatives insist repeatedly and forcefully that the NHS was “not for sale”, and any suggestion otherwise was just a scare story. Then why not accept ‘New Clause 17’ and put it into law?
This Tory Government has shown time and again over the past decade that its promises and commitments mean nothing. This is precisely why Labour demanded that the NHS exemption should be put into law.
There is now no safety net when it comes to future trade deals. Protections governing NHS and food and farming standards are not enshrined in law, so there is nothing to stop this government, or any future Tory government, from allowing those protections to be undermined in a trade deal, whether deliberately or not.
For the past six months, I have been making the case that our British farmers must not be undercut in future trade deals allowing food produced to lower environmental and animal welfare standards abroad to be sold in the UK. Whether the food is grown here or imported, it must meet our current high standards.
Chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef may have taken the lion’s share of public focus on this matter. Still, these are not the only foods that could be produced cheaper abroad because of lower standards, let alone poorer working practices, pay and conditions. I have listened carefully to British farmers in the south-west and, via the National Farmers Union, nationally and they all share my concern.
I have tabled amendments to the Agriculture Bill to protect our high standards, as have some Tory MPs. Sadly, Ministers used their vast majority to defeat these efforts giving the green light for a US trade deal that would undercut our British farmers pushing many out of business I fear.
I am genuinely worried about our food and farming standards being undercut in trade deals not just with the USA but with Australia and other countries too. We need to keep up the pressure on the government, demand that they start telling the truth about the Trade Bill, and take this fight on to the next stage in the House of Lords.”