Mel Stride puts his foot in it

Mel Stride, Conservative MP for Central Devon, was photographed wearing a wheatsheaf brooch in support of the Back British Farming Day, whilst failing to vote for Neil Parish’s (Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton) amendment to the Agriculture Bill. This amendment was designed to maintain our food and animal welfare standards in any future trade deals, particularly any deal with the US.

In his emailed reply to a constituent who wrote to him to point out this glaring disconnect between his seeming support for UK farmers and his voting habits, Mel Stride was, perhaps, rather more illuminating than he had intended.

He starts with the emollient

“While I wholeheartedly agreed with the aim of Mr Parish’s amendment to the Agriculture Bill, I feared that it would have unintended consequences. For example, it would have required an assessment of all our trading partners’ standards for those trade deals from which we benefit and for this to be completed by the end of December in order to allow for the rollover of these arrangements. I did not think this was realistic and if these trade deals are not rolled over, it could well be to the detriment of our farmers and others.”

Wait. “it would have required an assessment of all our trading partners’ standards”.

Is he telling us there will potentially be no assessment of the standards enforced in the countries with which we trade? Why? Because there’s no time?

Let us not forget that the December deadline is entirely of the government’s own making. What is more, it is there in spite of the persistent warnings from trade experts, politicians, and campaign organisations that this deadline would severely damage UK interests and that an extension to the Transition Period with the EU should be sought.

He went on to say

 “The Government has a manifesto commitment to uphold our standards and ensure that they are met by those that we trade with, and there will be a number of ways in which this will be achieved not least through the negotiation of future trading arrangements and associated parliamentary scrutiny.”

Can a government actively advocating breaking international law by reneging on the Withdrawal Agreement be trusted to uphold a manifesto commitment? Mr Stride seems to have forgotten that, in that very same election to which he refers, MPs had to pledge support for the Withdrawal Agreement and they were elected on that basis.

Our Government has proved time and again that they are hell bent on avoiding any scrutiny whatsoever, let alone parliamentary scrutiny. Gina Miller had to drag Government to court and fight a legal case to ensure that Parliament had a role in making the decisions surrounding Brexit.

His email continues:

“At the end of the EU transition period, we will maintain the same import standards. No UK import standards will be diminished as part of a free trade agreement (FTA). We will also ensure that our own high domestic environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards are not undermined, by ensuring in any future agreement British farmers are always able to compete.”

It is difficult to see on what basis he feels able to make these reassurances. The second sentence, if read carefully, makes very little sense. There is no connection between ensuring British farmers are able to compete (which in itself means nothing) and ensuring our standards are not undermined. He is also implying that there will be checks on partners’ trading standards after all. This seems rather contradictory to the substance of his opening paragraph.   

He ended his reply:

 “During the debate on the Agriculture Bill, the Defra minister, Victoria Prentis MP, put the following on the record from the Despatch Box: ‘I reassure colleagues that all food coming into this country will be required to meet existing import requirements. At the end of the transition period, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 will convert all EU standards into domestic law. That will include a ban on using artificial growth hormones in beef. Nothing apart from potable water may be used to clean chicken carcases, and any changes to those standards would have to come before this Parliament. We will be doing our own inspections to ensure that those import conditions are met’ (Hansard, 13 May 2020, Volume 676 Col. 295).”

It is looking ever more likely we will be ending the EU Transition Period without Johnson’s oven ready Brexit deal in place. We will have left with No Deal, the option that Parliament rejected time and again. So much for Parliamentary scrutiny! In those circumstances, the UK will be in desperate need for new trade deals with countries around the world and, in particular, the USA. That desperation is laid bare for all to see. Only the most naive of politicians could possibly believe we enter these negotiations with a strong hand.

By threatening to break international law our government has further undermined this country’s already fragile credibility and destroyed our international standing. With that backdrop, can we really be reassured that Parliament will act in the national interest, uphold our food, animal welfare and environmental standards? Will they protect our farmers, or indeed any of us?