By the Uncivil Servant, our anonymous columnist with an insider’s view of government.
After the Agriculture Bill (predictably) passed through the Commons without any amendments to enshrine food standards in law, all eyes were on the House of Lords to pick up the political baton of protecting farmers from lower-quality imports.
It didn’t. The Second Reading of the Bill was committed to the House with full trust placed in the leadership of UK Ministers, under the advice of the FSA, to uphold food standards.
We don’t need legislation anyway! Or so Trade Secretary Liz Truss, and Defra Secretary, Eustice keep telling us. Both ‘alive to the issues’ and adamant that a US free trade agreement will only bring glad tidings for British farmers.
It’s the topic on everybody’s lips right now – notwithstanding the obvious. I was speaking to somebody the other day who stopped me mid-sentence and said ‘I must go, Liz Truss is on the other line.’ I tried it myself to end a tedious phone call; it’s really effective.
Meanwhile, on Brexit (remember that?) the UK’s transition period is confirmed as 31 December 2020. Scenario planning is taking place within government in the event of no free trade agreement, with industry helping Defra plan for The Big Day.
It’s fair to say that concerns about the potential impossibility of reaching a deal before the end of the transition have increased. Both sides are due to hammer it out at a high-level virtual conference at the end of June, which will probably decide the way forward.
Yet, let’s be honest, trying to do anything meaningful via video-conferencing is pretty futile. Barking dogs, intermittent wi-fi and way too much time spent watching people’s lips move before they realise their microphone is still off.
Whether it’s concerns over getting into bed with the United States, or wrangling over rules with the EU, when faced with so many unknown quantities on our future trading status, the UK industry can really only do two things. Focus on its points of difference – the ones that really resonate with consumers and compete.
The defeat in the Commons on food standards amendments was inevitable, but the debate on the Ag Bill is far from over. The Lords may have failed to save the day, but I was just impressed they knew how to unmute their Zoom mics.