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You wouldn't do that would you, Dr Fox? Would you?

20th Sep 2018 / By Alistair Driver

There is an interesting and rather worrying article on the Business Insider website today concerning 'cunning' Liam Fox's post-Brexit plans.  

liam foxThe article suggests the Trade Secretary is 'plotting to scrap EU food standards to win a Brexit trade deal with Trump'. The 'exclusive' suggests he is planning to use controversial 'Henry VIII' powers to rewrite UK food standards through the upcoming Trade Bill in order to pave the way for a UK-US trade deal. 

The article suggests this would entail using statutory to rewrite parts of legislation without a vote in parliament after it has been voted on by MPs. The article says Fox’s plans were 'confirmed by another government source as well as two sources who work closely with his department'.

Of course, it is impossible to gauge from anonymoysly sourced articles how seriously is considering going down this route. 

If he's even thinking it would be enormously controversial within Government, the UK food and farming community. 

Gove v Fox

The Prime Minister has insisted would not lower its food standards to achieve future trade deals - indeed her proposed Chequers plan would make this very difficult.

Gove3And Defra Secretary Michael Gove has clashed very publicly with the Trade Secretary on this after Dr Fox made it clear he would to see the UK move away form EU rules that currently prohibit imports of chlorine washed chicken and other products produced using practices banned in the EU. This could potentially include pigs produced using the feed additive ractopamine.

"There are no health reasons why you couldn’t eat chickens that have been washed in chlorinated water,” the Trade Secretary told MPs last year. 

But Mr Gove has said the cabinet is agreed that there should be 'no compromise on high animal welfare and environmental standards'. “In America, they cannot guarantee the same high standards in terms of how chickens are reared that we insist on here," he told MPs. 

The article quotes an official Government spokesman reiterating the line that the Trade bill would be used to lower food standards after Brexit. "To suggest otherwise is false,” they said.

But it also quotes a government source insisting 'nothing is completely off the table'. "We are going to keep the same high level of health and safety standards but we are on course to negotiate with the US for an FTA and that will require compromise,” the source said.

When the critical moment arrives, it might come down ultimately to who holds the most power within Government and what it decides its priorities are between cheap food and supporting domestic production. 

That said, if Dr Fox did attempt such a move, the backlash from MPs and possibly elsewhere within Government, the media, public, environmental organisations and, above all, farmers, would be immense.