Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party have rowed back on one of their key manifesto pledges after voting down an amendment designed to protect the UK’s current Food Standards and Animal Welfare regulations from being watered down in any future trade deals.
Despite a rebellion by several Tory backbenchers, Boris Johnson’s government managed to defeat the key amendment to last night’s Agriculture Bill by a margin of 332-279.
Had it passed, Amendment 16 would have enshrined the UK’s current food standards and animal welfare regulations in law so that the government could not negotiate them away in any post-Brexit trade deal.
The amendment had significant support from across the political divide – with a National Farmers’ Union petition garnering more than a million signatures, and even the Conservative Party’s own affiliated animal welfare organisation coming out in favour of it.
British farmers are concerned that any lowering of food and animal welfare standards would lead to inhumane and unsafe food imports, and would ultimately undermine the viability of domestic producers.
The Tories’ decision to reject the amendment comes despite Boris Johnson promising to uphold the UK’s food and animal welfare standards during the 2019 General Election.
The Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto claimed that, under their leadership, Britain would “lead the world in the quality of our food“, before promising:
“In all of our trade negotiations, we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.”
The Tories’ decision to renege on their manifesto promise came as a Channel Four Dispatches investigation revealed the horrifying hygiene and welfare standards that “could soon be coming to Britain” if protections are negotatiated away as part of post-Brexit trade deals.
Following the vote, the Green Party MP, Caroline Lucas, tweeted that the Tories’ decision to vote down the amendment showed that their promises were “totally utterly & completely worthless“:
Government just voted with majority of 53 to strip amendment 16 from #AgricultureBill, which would have safeguarded food standards in trade deals – demonstrating beyond doubt that their promises are totally utterly & completely worthless – even when enshrined in their manifesto👇 pic.twitter.com/GiSTz9OUoz
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) October 12, 2020
Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary, Luke Pollard, echoed Lucas’ sentiment, saying:
“The Conservatives have again broken their promise to British farmers and the public. No one wants lower quality food on our plates, but there is an increasing risk that this could happen because the prime minister is refusing to show leadership. Labour will always back British farmers and it is a disgrace that the Tories won’t do the same.”
Whilst Labour Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, labelled the Tories as a “disgrace“, adding that they were “letting our farmers down, letting consumers down, our high animal welfare standards in the gutter“:
Govt votes to remove Amendment 16 from #AgricultureBill result: 332 to 279. Tories are a disgrace, letting our farmers down, letting consumers down, our high animal welfare standards in the gutter, we must campaign against sub standard imports undercutting our high standards! 😡
— 🌈 Angela Rayner 🌈 (@AngelaRayner) October 12, 2020
And, during the debate, even a number of Tory MPs questioned why their own party was opposing the amendment.
The Tory Chair of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, Neil Parish, said the government should “move in a more environmental way“, adding:
“Why are we not a great beacon of animal welfare and the environment as we negotiate these trade deals? We have in our manifesto the commitment, both on animal welfare and the environment as we move forward. Would it not be right for the Secretary of State for Trade to have the armour of having the backing of Parliament to actually say ‘I can’t actually negotiate away that particular part of the deal with you because it is written down in law’?”
In response, the government has dismissed concerns about the potential lowering of food standards and animal welfare protections as simply “unhelpful scaremongering” and claim that critics should simply trust them to uphold their manifesto pledge on the issue.
You can check how your MP voted on last night’s amendment here.