Environment secretary insists legal protections on food 'not necessary' as it's in manifesto

Boris Johnson MP (right) with George Eustice. Photograph: Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA.

Boris Johnson MP (right) with George Eustice. Photograph: Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA. - Credit: PA

The government's environment secretary has insisted that protections for food and farming standards are not necessary - because it was in the Conservative Party manifesto.

On Monday, MPs voted to overturn measures aimed at protecting UK food standards in future trade deals.

But defending the decision of government to vote against such protections, George Eustice said legal protection “wasn’t necessary” and the Tories had already given assurances since it was in their manifesto.

Eustice said: “We will be maintaining food standards – it’s a manifesto commitment.

“We’ve already got legislative processes that protect those standards and so this clause wasn’t necessary to protect those standards.”

Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland, he continued: “We already have a prohibition of the sale of things like chlorine-washed chicken or hormones in beef and that’s not going to change.”

He added: “We care deeply about animal welfare as well, so we’re clear that we will use tariff policy to ensure that we effectively maintain a tariff barrier against producers who are not matching our standards.”

MORE: These MPs just voted against protecting food and farming standards after Brexit

Asked if the government would walk away from trade talks if the US insisted on lower standards of food imports, Eustice said: “I don’t think they will jeopardise a trade agreement.

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“At the end of the day, the UK is the third-largest market in the world for food measured by import value – we come only after China and Japan.

“The US and many others would like to have access to our market, and the general rule here is if you want access to someone else’s market, then you should abide by the customs and rules of the market that you seek access to, and that’s what we’ll be explaining.”

He added: “In any negotiation, you have to be very clear about your mandate and stick to your red lines, and so in our approach to all of these trade agreements maintaining animal welfare standards is right up there. It’s one of our key things that we’re aiming to do.”

Eustice explained that MPs have the power to reject a trade agreement during the ratification process and suggested including protections in the Agriculture Bill could “derail” plans to roll over trade agreements on existing EU terms.

Eustice said the whip would not be removed from the Tory MPs who rebelled against the vote, saying it was “perfectly normal” to have a difference of opinion and for voting with “their own personal conscience”.

Eustice also said he understood why the NFU were opposed to the government’s rejection of legal protection and said: “I can understand that farmers will be apprehensive.

“This is a time of change as we leave the European Union and start to have new trade agreements with other parts of the world.

“I can understand that apprehension, but we’ve got a very clear stance that we set out and that we’ve explained to the NFU that will protect and uphold our standards and will also protect our sensitive sectors like beef and sheep.”




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