Tensions in government between those who want to protect UK food standards and those who want to “accommodate” US demands to relax them have been revealed in a leaked briefing prepared for Defra secretary Theresa Villiers.
The document warns Defra is likely to face “significant pressure” from the department headed by Liz Truss, the Department for International Trade (DIT) to relax food and environmental standards in order to sign a trade deal with the USA following Brexit, in particular by lowering the UK’s sanitary and phytosanitary standards (SPS).
The leaked document was first published by Unearthed, an investigative news website run by Greenpeace. “Weakening our SPS regime to accommodate one trade partner could irreparably damage our ability to maintain UK animal, plant and public health, and reduce trust in our exports,” the Defra document states, according to the report.
Truss recently stated her support of taking a free market approach in trade negotiations after Brexit. Speaking at a fringe event at the Conservative Party Conference last week, Truss said: “I’m very proud of the high environmental standards that we have in this country. But what we don’t want to do is end up on the route that the EU was on, of essentially saying that we are going to try and control everything that goes on in another sovereign nation, because that was the EU approach.
“So to me, of course one of the points is that we are working with countries with high standards, but it’s very dangerous and can lead to extra territoriality if you try and impose your regulatory system on another country. That’s not the approach I want to take. I want to take a much more free-market approach than that.”
The document advises Villiers she will need to “push back” against the DIT. Last month she told the EFRA Select Committee she echoed her predecessor Michael Gove in her commitment to keeping UK food standards the same and insisting imports meet those standards too, which would rule out products such as US-produced chlorinated chicken. “Yes, we are determined to maintain our high food standards. That will be at the heart of our trade discussions. There is strong public support for maintaining those high standards. Like my predecessor, I do not believe for a moment that we should water them down in pursuit of trade deals. That is the Government’s position.”