The Conservatives have been clear – they will not allow our food standards to be undermined in trade deals, says Andrew RT Davies, Welsh Tory Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Coronavirus continues to dominate the political agenda, and all over the world, we are seeing the devastating impact of this disease, which threatens to take both our way of life and our loved ones from us.
Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of British people, and despite a tragic loss of life, the UK has made progress slowing the spread of Coronavirus.
While the public health crisis is still very much real, we must also turn our attention to the economic recovery.
The objective is to return to our way of life as soon as possible – focusing not on just saving lives, but also livelihoods, which I know is of huge concern to many people in our agricultural and rural communities.
Our farmers have been working around the clock during this crisis to feed our great nation, reaffirming the importance of our industry in the eyes of the public and the need to develop and strengthen food security.
As a result, one of the political issues which has managed to capture some spotlight during the pandemic has been the debate regarding food standards and imports.
As many readers will be aware, there were several Agriculture Bill amendments voted down by the Government, which I believed at the time was a missed opportunity, though there has been an element of political game-playing – as is always the case with Brexit-related topics.
As a farmer and Conservative, I will accept no lowering of standards in future trade deals with other countries.
This Conservative Government was elected on a manifesto to protect and maintain standards, and that’s non-negotiable for me.
However, the context of this vote is important to note. The Agriculture Bill sets out future agricultural policy for England, certainly not Wales, and most significantly does not cover international trade.
Had the new clauses passed, they could have undermined the trade deals we currently have in place, and our ability to reach a trade deal with the European Union – the biggest market for Welsh agricultural produce.
Our manifesto is clear, providing the founding principles for future trade negotiations, and I am pleased these commitments have been restated by the Prime Minister, Defra Secretary and Trade Secretary in the past fortnight.
The Prime Minister was unequivocal in his appearance before the UK Parliament’s liaison committee that our manifesto commitments would be respected, and the two Secretaries of State published a very strong pledge in that regard last week.
In my view, there is no greater friend to agriculture than the Conservatives in Government.
The greatest proof of that is to see the damage inflicted on our industry in Wales over the past twenty years at the hands of successive Labour administrations – with their little helpers during that period, Plaid Cymru and the Lib Dems.
The UK Government and the 365 Conservative MPs elected only last December took their seats on a manifesto commitment to protect UK agricultural standards – from food and animal welfare to environmental protections.
This will be respected, and as a party colleague, albeit one sitting in a different institution in the Senedd, I will use my voice and do all that I can to ensure this is the case, starting as soon as I finish this article by penning a letter reiterating these various points to the Prime Minister and George Eustice.
My message to farmers in Wales and across the UK is that I’m on your side.
Coronavirus has demonstrated how vital the industry is to Great Britain, so thank you for what you’ve done, and keep up the great work feeding our great nation.
Andrew can be found tweeting at @AndrewRTDavies