Ministers have finally given Parliament more power to scrutinise trade deals, but the Parliament which will be scrutinising is the same Tory-majority one which has voted time and again not to protect our standards. I am not popping the champagne cork just yet, says Liberal Democrat MP Tim Farron.
The fight to protect British food and farming standards took a step forward this month with the Government agreeing to put the Trade and Agriculture Commission on a statutory footing.
This concession is in large part down to the tireless efforts of the NFU and in particular president Minette Batters, whose leadership on this issue has been second to none.
Giving Parliament detailed information about the impact of future negotiated trade deals on our animal welfare, environmental and food standards and giving MPs the opportunity to scrutinise and debate this can only be a good thing.
However, I am not ready to pop the champagne cork just yet.
The fact that the Government had to be dragged kicking and screaming to reach this point does not fill me with hope that they have the best interests of British farming at heart.
This was spelled out for all to see when Defra minister Victoria Prentis told MPs that requiring imports to meet the same food safety and animal welfare standards as those produced in this country would make it ‘very difficult to secure any new trade deals’.
It seems the Government is in favour of fair trade for everyone apart from British farmers and consumers.
When push comes to shove, the Government would be prepared to throw British farmers under a bus in order to get a trade deal with the USA or China.
I’m also very wary that the Parliament which will scrutinise these trade deals is the same Parliament which is made up of a strong majority of Conservative MPs who time and time again failed to vote in favour of protecting UK standards, with a handful of honourable exceptions.
Can we rely on this Parliament to stand up for our world class standards when it comes to the crunch?
I wouldn’t hold your breath.
But this is yet another key example of the Government failing to protect our farmers.
Next year, they will begin to phase out the Basic Payment Scheme, removing a sizeable portion of farmers’ income.
And they won’t fully replace it with the Environmental Land Management Scheme – which we are still waiting for the details of – until seven years’ time.
I’m sorry, but nobody would accept a reduction in their income for a seven-year period with no certainty of what will replace it.
Why on earth should we accept farmers to do the same?
By doing this, the Government is undermining the British family farm – the very unit that underpins our high animal welfare standards.
This is a deeply uncertain time for farmers who cannot rely on the Government to fight their corner.
But I am determined, with the help of the NFU and cross-party colleagues, to stand up for our farmers and our world-class standards.
Tim can be found tweeting at @timfarron