Brexit – Tory treachery against UK farmers favours US agribusiness
By Rob Woodward – TruePublica: At TruePublica we said this was going to happen all along – and this is just a taster for what is coming down the road. Brexit will not defend anything at all in Britain except deregulation. Brexit is not about the EU, it’s about corporate power, profits and about America. As for the UK’s farming industry in the first real test of how the Tories will move forward, there’s no better demonstration than this.
There’s blood on the floor for UK farmers who overwhelmingly voted for Brexit and it’s their own blood. It started off in the year 2018-19, where farmers had received £3.5bn in financial support through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). That has since been reduced to £2.5bn by the British government who had once told the industry that subsidy levels would be maintained until 2025. And since the Brexit vote, we’ve also now learned that half of the UK’s chickens are already being produced by companies fully or partly controlled by US agribusinesses and that US-style industrial-scale beef farming has arrived by the backdoor and largely unregulated.
The industry now needs protecting from American style farming practices and very especially from their appalling standards of animal husbandry.
However, when the (Brexit) Agriculture Bill had its third reading in parliament last Wednesday (13 May), UK farmers ended up losing once again – only this time, they lost to American Agribusiness that shocked the entire industry to its core.
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The most important piece of farming legislation to come before parliament in decades included an amendment tabled by Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton, which sought to protect UK farmers from low-standard food imports.
The clause would have prevented future trade deals from allowing food into the UK not produced to the standards required of farmers and processors within the UK.
But it was defeated by 328 to 277 votes – a majority of 51 – after failing to receive the support of the Conservative government, despite numerous previous commitments to safeguard our farming industry from cheap food imports, produced to standards that would be illegal in the UK.
In total, 183 Labour MPs, 44 Scottish National Party (SNP) MPs and 11 Liberal Democrat MPs, as well as Green Party MP Caroline Lucas, voted in favour of Mr Parish’s amendment.
The reality of this vote means, American agricultural food imports takes precedent over British farming standards.
Despite priding themselves on being “the party of the countryside”, only 22 Conservatives voted to support Mr Parish’s defeated amendment, which included former Defra secretary Theresa Villiers, MP for Chipping Barnet. It was political treachery of an entire industry that backed Brexit and the Prime Minister all the way to the last election.
York Outer Conservative MP Julian Sturdy, a former farmer and agriculture student, was another who voted in support of Mr Parish’s amendment.
He said he very much supported the main thrust of the bill, including important recognition for domestic food production, food security, funding to support innovation, funding for productivity improvements and agri-environment provisions. He said:
“Our producers have worked for decades to raise our standards and this could easily be lost if they are set at a structural disadvantage while allowing in a flood of low-quality imports.”
Following the vote, farmers angrily took to social media to criticise the numerous Conservative MPs in rural constituencies who failed to back Mr Parish’s amendment.
MPs voting down clause
These included George Eustice, Defra secretary and MP for Camborne and Redruth; Faye Jones, Brecon and Radnorshire MP who used to work for the NFU; Robbie Moore, MP for Keighley, who is also a Nuffield scholar and comes from a farming family; Simon Hart, MP for Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, who is also a former chairman of the Countryside Alliance; Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire; Liz Truss, the trade secretary and MP for South West Norfolk; and six Suffolk Tory MPs.
Defra farm minister Victoria Prentis, who is Conservative MP for Banbury, also voted against Mr Parish’s amendment. She attempted to allay fears that UK farmers will be undermined in any future trade deals.
Ms Prentis said: “I was elected on a very clear manifesto commitment – one that the prime minister has reiterated since – that in all our trade negotiations we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards.
Liz Truss is said to be already drawing up plans to cut tariffs on US food imports to secure a free trade agreement with the US
“This government will stand firm in trade negotiations to ensure that any deals live up to the values of our farmers and consumers.”
However, Ms Truss is said to be already drawing up plans to cut tariffs on US food imports to secure a free trade agreement with the US.
The Farmers’ Union of Wales (FUW) said it was a “grave error” that this critical amendment had been blocked.
FUW president Glyn Roberts said its members and the public were appalled that an attempt to protect UK farmers and consumers from food produced to lower health, welfare and environmental standards had effectively been blocked by the government, at a time when the importance of protecting the food security and health of the nation was at the top of the agenda.
“With the Agriculture Bill now due to be considered by the House of Lords it is essential that they do all they can to correct this position before the bill returns to the House of Commons, and I truly hope that the government will support rather than obstruct this,” he added.
Ministers insist that the issue of protecting food standards in post-Brexit trade deals will be dealt with in the forthcoming Trade Bill.
One farmer from York, speaking about Brexit said he feared farms could soon be “wiped out like the coal industry”.