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Number 10’s bullish Brexit attitude does not bode well for protection of food standards

Number 10 has already removed environmental commitments from the EU Withdrawal Agreement, which does not bode well for the protection of food standards over the coming years, says Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East.

As I pen this latest Brexit Hub piece in the days following the General Election, there’s no getting around the fact it’s a long way back to power for Labour.

 

We’ve lost several dedicated champions of farming and the countryside, including Sue Hayman, David Drew and Sandy Martin from our shadow Defra team.

 

It’s never easy to lose colleagues, and returning to Westminster to see them and their staff clearing out their offices just before Christmas is particularly difficult.

 

As a party, we are now heading into a period of reflection and a leadership election, with a new leader and deputy in place by the end of March.

 

Whatever the result, we must emerge from this process stronger, more united and focused on the task ahead, which is not just about opposition but about genuine cross-party collaboration where there are areas of agreement.

 

There are no All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) at the moment, but I hope the APPG Agroecology for Sustainable Food and Farming, which I chaired in the last Parliament, will be up and running again very soon.

 

Worrying

 

Turning to the Government, the Prime Minister is already exercising his newly-secured majority and the opening signal of intent is worrying.

 

Just four days after we went to the polls, and before Parliament had even reconvened, Downing Street removed its commitments to workers and environmental rights from the EU Withdrawal Agreement.

 

It no longer needs to make such concessions to get the Bill through, given the size of its majority.

 

For those of us who’ve been calling for a black and white assurance in legislation to prevent the import of foods produced to standards below our own, I fear it doesn’t bode well.

 

As we learned in the last parliamentary session, the Government talks the talk on protecting British farming from cheap imports, but it does not walk the walk.

 

Consensus

 

With that in mind, it feels almost inevitable that I’ll be dusting off my trade amendment for the third incarnation of the Agriculture Bill, which would ensure there was no lowering of food safety, environmental or animal welfare standards in any post-Brexit trade deal, and seeking to build a cross-party consensus once again.

 

I’d encourage all of you to get in touch with your MPs and make the case at the earliest opportunity too.

 

But it isn’t just standards where Number 10 have had a change of heart.

 

The parliamentary vote on whether to extend the transition period, should we not have secured a trade deal with the European Union by the end of 2020, has been removed too, leaving the door to no-deal firmly ajar.

 

Of course, the Government can amend the legislation down the line, but I think this early foray highlights the role symbolism will play in this administration.

 

Symbolism

 

Whatever the PM’s tactics, this next stage of the Brexit process will be just as complex as the last three years and symbolism is no match for substance.

 

Looking to the year ahead, there’s no doubt it will be monopolised by our trade negotiations with the EU once we inevitably enter the transition phase on January 31.

 

And in the next 100 days, it appears certain there will be a wide-ranging Ministerial reshuffle and I assume the re-introduction of the Agriculture Bill.

 

I’m particularly keen to see the findings of the National Food Strategy over the summer of 2020 too, but before all of that, I’m looking forward to an inspiring couple of days at the Oxford Real Farming Conference.

 

Kerry can be found tweeting at @KerryMP

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