A plot by the Trade Secretary Liam Fox to use ‘Henry VIII powers’ to alter UK food standards has left farm groups furious.
According to a report by Business Insider, Dr Fox and Crawford Falconer, the UK’s chief trade negotiation adviser, are planning to rewrite UK food standards in secondary legislation tied to the Trade Bill.
These secondary pieces of legislation, known as Statutory Instruments (SIs), can be altered without as much scrutiny as primary legislation.
Dr Fox is said to be pursuing the plan in an attempt to secure a UK-US trade deal – something Department for International Trade (DIT) officials have been working on secretly for some time.
The plot was confirmed by two Government sources and two sources working closely with DIT.
One of the Government sources told BI: “Nothing is completely off the table. We are going to keep the same high level of health and safety standards, but we are on course to negotiate with the US for an FTA and that will require compromise.”
American negotiators are known to be pushing for the UK to accept both chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef as part of any new trade agreement.
In 2017, Dr Fox said he had ‘no objection’ to chlorinated chicken being sold to the British public.
This position has set him on a collision course with Defra Secretary Michael Gove, who has repeatedly said the UK will not accept chlorinated chicken as part of any US-UK trade deal.
But Sarah Church, the department’s head of food and farming, told a Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum event in July that Defra was ‘at least partially reliant on other departments’ to ensure UK producers were not undercut by lower standard imports.
Kath Dalmeny, chief executive of food and farming alliance Sustain, said: “The Henry VIII powers were supposed to be about making minor amendments to EU legislation, not facilitating a bonfire of our food standards.
“A recent poll showed that more than 80 per cent of UK consumers are opposed to us lowering our food standards in exchange for a US trade deal.
“Multiple ministers, including Liam Fox, have said in parliament they will not sell out UK farmers and consumers, so we are furious this idea is still apparently being discussed inside DIT. What a betrayal of voters, constituents and farmers.”
NFU chief Brexit and international trade adviser Gail Soutar told Farmers Guardian the high quality food British farmers produce must be protected.
“Any future trade deal must ensure these standards are not undermined,” she added.
“We continue to engage with the UK Government to ensure farming and food production is recognised as a strategic importance in any negotiation.”
Dr Fox has responded to the BI story with a tweet, prompting one of the journalists who wrote it to reply.
I have consistently said that there will be NO lowering of UK Food Standards. To suggest otherwise is completely untrue, false & #FakeNews – such a shame that people pedal rumours and myths that are clearly wrong— Dr Liam Fox MP (@LiamFox)
Fox says there’ll be no lowering of food standards. In his eyes, reg divergence from the EU doesn’t mean a lower food/agricultural standards. That’s a matter of opinion. However, the crux of the story — that he wants to use Henry VIII powers to alter standards — is unchallenged.— Adam Payne (@adampayne26)
Fox says there'll be no lowering of food standards. In his eyes, reg divergence from the EU doesn't mean a lower food/agricultural standards. That's a matter of opinion. However, the crux of the story — that he wants to use Henry VIII powers to alter standards — is unchallenged.— Adam Payne (@adampayne26) September 20, 2018