Last night, your government and mine voted against – yes, against – enshrining the UK’s food and farming standards in law. Instead, we are asked to trust in their manifesto promise to maintain said standards and not to compromise them in any trade deals they might finally (and without the say-so of parliament) strike with the likes of the USA.
The west country is made up, by and large, of rural constituencies. Yet, out of all our Conservative MPs in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset – and there are 32 of them- only TWO voted to keep our food standards and save our farmers from being undermined by cheap, poorly-produced imports. Those two were Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton and Simon Hoare, MP for North Dorset. Labour MPs Luke Pollard, MP for Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport and Shadow Secretary of State for for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Ben Bradshaw MP for Exeter voted for all the Lords’ amendments which would give protection to farmers and consumers.
Luke Pollard said: “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.”
Neil Parish (chair of the select committee on the environment, food and rural affairs) made an impassioned speech, pointing out that little could strengthen the hand of a UK negotiator more, when faced with a mighty trade adversary, than the protection of the law.
“Why are we not a great beacon of animal welfare and the environment as we negotiate these trade deals?” he asked, calling for the government to have the “armour” of legal status for the standards. “We the British believe in agriculture, we believe in farming.”
Several MPs asked how assertions that we would never sacrifice our standards possibly be consistent with claims that to enshrine these standards in law would hamper our ability to strike trade deals?
All to no avail. Totnes MP, Anthony Mangnall, accused supporters of the amendments of scaremongering. Totnesians will want to remember that.
So here it is, the roll call of shame:
The following happily threw farmers and consumers under the US trade bulldozer:
Conor Burns, Bournemouth West
Geoffrey Cox, Torridge and West Devon
Steve Double, St Austell and Newquay
Richard Drax, South Dorset
Tobias Ellwood, Bournemouth East
George Eustice, Camborne and Redruth
Kevin Foster, Torbay
Marcus Fysh, Yeovil
James Heappey, Wells
Simon Jupp, East Devon
Ian Liddell-Granger, Bridgwater and West Somerset
Chris Loder, West Dorset
Cherilyn Mackrory, Truro and Falmouth
Anthony Mangnall, Totnes
Scott Mann, North Cornwall
Johnny Mercer, Plymouth, Moor View
Anne Marie Morris, Newton Abbot
Sheryll Murray, South East Cornwall
John Penrose, Weston-super-Mare
Rebecca Pow, Taunton Deane
Jacob Rees-Mogg, North East Somerset
Selaine Saxby, North Devon
Sir Gary Streeter, South West Devon
Sir Robert Syms, Poole
Mel Stride, Central Devon
Derek Thomas, St Ives
Michael Tomlinson, Mid Dorset and North Poole
David Warburton, Somerton and Frome
No vote recorded for the following:
Sir Christopher Chope
Dr Liam Fox, North Somerset
Trust is in extremely short supply. Are we really expected to trust a government which proposes reneging on a treaty its leader signed and crowed over less than a year ago? Do we trust a government which has squandered billions of pounds of our money on PPE and a test, track and trace system which fails to test, track or trace sufficiently to mitigate the devastating effects of Covid-19? Do we trust a government which claims to follow the science and then ignores it when it is inconvenient? Trust in a government which was elected on the promise of an oven-ready deal, but which in fact has not only not got such a meal, but has not even thought about the ingredients, let alone bought them and cooked them up? What basis is there for anything other than utter distrust?
Farmers will not forget 12 October 2020 and neither should we. It was yet another day on which the government put its own ideology and venal interests above those of its citizens.