If there’s one thing we’ve learned it’s that, even during a pandemic, British politicians and people will always find time to argue about Brexit.
And in this case, it seems like the issue of chlorinated chicken potentially being on British shelves after Brexit just isn’t going away for the government.
This time, peers in the House of Lords have have slammed the government for not enshrining into law important matters on food and animal welfare standards. This follows pressure from consumers and retailers over the possibility of food standards being lowered in order to strike post-Brexit trade deals with countries outside the EU.
After all, in 2019 the Conservative Party was elected on a manifesto which committed to “not compromise” on the UK’s “high” environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards. Yet last month it was widely reported that the government had done a U-turn and was putting chlorinated chicken back “on the menu” in a post-Brexit trade deal with the USA.
This sparked fury among consumers, and supermarkets including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Waitrose, M&S and Aldi all issued statements saying they’d never stock chlorinated chicken.
In the House of Lords, peers voiced concerns over the potential contents of the Agriculture Bill, which sets out new policy as the UK exits the EU-wide Common Agricultural Policy.
Shadow environment minister Lord Grantchester said:
The simplest way to decide this matter is by enshrining the UK’s position here in law.
The Conservative voters that read the Conservative Party manifesto can be forgiven for thinking this is what they were going to get when they voted to ‘get Brexit done’.
The Conservative government is happy to enshrine Brexit twice in legislation.
The Conservative government is happy to enshrine the position on Huawei into law.
It is happy to do it again on the wearing of face masks.
I’d welcome the minister’s U-turn on the matter of food standards as well, as soon as he can make it.
Conservative Baroness McIntosh of Pickering said the government has confirmed Britain will not lower its standards:
But I make a plea to the minister that we need fair competition and a level playing field.
We need to give our farmers an assurance that they will not be undercut by imports of substandard farm produce and that their good husbandry will be recognised.
But Lady McIntosh did warn of the "perverse" potential situation where British farmers might adhere to high standards, but then be “undercut” by imports.
Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoombe said she was terrified that the government is so “desperate” to secure a US trade deal that it’ll give in to US standards. This sentiment was repeated by former Labour former cabinet minister Lord Hain, who said:
So desperate are the Brexiteers to declare UDI (unilateral declaration of independence) from the EU that they are prepared to prostrate themselves at the door of Donald Trump’s America-first trade and sell-out our farmers while turning a blind eye to environmental degradation and poor animal welfare standards.
As the debate over post-Brexit trade continues, it seems clear that the issue of chlorinated chicken, and food standards more generally, isn't going away for the Tories. And quite right too.