Welsh Conservative MPs accused of ‘betraying farmers’ over food standards vote

Picture by Osian Hedd Harries

Conservative MPs in Wales have been accused of “betraying farmers” after they voted against protecting food standards after Brexit.

They rejected a Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill, which would have forced trade deals to meet UK animal welfare and food safety standards. The effort was struck down by 332 votes to 279.

Kirsty Williams, the Welsh Liberal Democrat Member of the Senedd for Brecon & Radnorshire, said that the Conservatives had failed to protect farmers in their constituencies from low-quality foreign food imports.

She said that her constituency’s MP, Fay Jones, had “consistently failed to back amendments safeguarding our local farming industry at every opportunity”.

“I am very disappointed with the result of last night’s vote against an amendment giving MPs the final say on trade deals, enabling them to prevent our high animal welfare and food standards being weakened,” Kirsty Williams, who is also a member of the Welsh Government, said.

“The amendment was supported by the NFU and RSPCA alongside many other organisations.

“The Conservatives have continually promised to back British farmers throughout the Brexit process, but their failure again last night to uphold our high food standards makes these promises hollow. This was a missed opportunity to reassure British farmers about the future at what is already an incredibly worrying time in the industry.

“The very fabric of our communities here in Brecon and Radnorshire relies on our farming families being able to make a living. Our welfare and food quality standards are amongst the best in the world and to even threaten to undermine them to secure a trade deal is appalling.”

 

‘Commitment’

Several Conservative MPs outside of Wales did however back the amendment, rebelling against the government, despite Number 10 arguing existing protections are already in place.

Speaking as the Lords amendments to the Bill was considered, senior Tory Neil Parish said the legislation is heading in the right direction and stressed the UK should be a “great beacon” on animal welfare and the environment when negotiating future trade deals.

The chairman of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee said: “We have in our manifesto the commitment to both animal welfare and the environment.

“Would it not be right for the Secretary of State for International Trade to have the armour of having the backing of Parliament to say ‘I can’t negotiate away that particular part of the deal with you because it is written down in law’?”

Conservative MP Julian Sturdy said he too would back the Lords amendment on food standards.

“I hope a continued stand on this issue will encourage the government to put our manifesto commitment to maintain UK standards on to the statute book,” he said.

Conservative former minister Steve Brine also said of the amendment: “Isn’t the wider point that we’d be sending the message out that we want the rest of the world to change their practices – it’s not just about what we do domestically, it’s about Britain being a beacon for the right thing elsewhere in the world.

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