National Farmers Union president Minette Batters: ‘They talk the talk — are they going to back it or aren’t they?’
National Farmers Union president Minette Batters: ‘They talk the talk — are they going to back it or aren’t they?’ © Simon Hadley/Alamy

UK farmers are calling for parliament to be given a final say on post-Brexit trade deals as concerns mount that the agriculture sector will face competition from food produced to lower standards overseas.

Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), said politicians would be “immoral and hypocrites” if they did not back parliamentary moves to guarantee a greater level of scrutiny.

She warned the process was “coming to the critical time” to ensure parliamentary oversight and prevent the British food market being flooded with cheaper overseas products made using drugs, pesticides and other chemicals that are banned in the UK.

Boris Johnson’s government is hoping to secure trade deals with the US and other countries to illustrate the economic benefits of the UK leaving the EU.

But British farmers are worried that Washington has listed “comprehensive market access for US agricultural goods in the UK” among its trade negotiating objectives, while the NFU has similar concerns over any deal with Australia. 

Ms Batters called for the House of Lords to amend the forthcoming trade bill — which is being debated by peers this week — to give parliament the ability to ratify or veto new trade deals.

She also said the NFU was urging the Lords to vote for an amendment put forward by Donald Curry, a crossbench peer, to the agriculture bill, likely to be debated next week. This would provide parliament with expert advice from the recently formed Trade and Agriculture Commission on the effects each deal would have on UK food and farming.

“If they rip out the amendment on the commission, it shows them to be immoral and hypocrites,” Ms Batters said in an interview with the Financial Times.

Ministers including the trade secretary Liz Truss have repeatedly said they will not compromise on food standards in securing future trade deals for the UK.

But Ms Batters said: “They talk the talk — are they going to back it or aren’t they?”

In July, the government abandoned hopes of reaching a trade deal with the US ahead of the November presidential election, which was seen as a victory for farmers worried that the UK would make concessions on food standards to secure a quick agreement.

As things stand, parliament will have only a limited scrutiny role after the failure of past amendments aiming to increase its involvement in trade deals. Other amendments designed to force food importers to meet UK production, environmental and animal welfare standards also failed.

Ms Batters warned that if the latest moves were also rejected it would be “game over”, with the opportunity lost to uphold food standards and ensure “democratic and transparent” scrutiny of deals.

 


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