Back UK farmers, says Great British Bake Off's Prue Leith

Back UK farmers, says Great British Bake Off’s Prue Leith: TV chef warns MPs of the dangers of trading away Britain’s food standards on eve of crucial vote

  • Bake Off star Prue Leith urges Britons to back farmers in key Commons vote 
  • Prime Minister faces a Commons showdown with Conservative rebels tomorrow
  • They want stronger protections to stop sub-standard foods flooding into the UK
  • But Prue Leith’s own Tory MP son said that he would not be joining the rebellion 

Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith today leads a new alliance of chefs and restaurateurs urging Boris Johnson to block substandard foods from flooding into the UK under post-Brexit trade deals

Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith today leads a new alliance of chefs and restaurateurs urging Boris Johnson to block substandard foods from flooding into the UK under post-Brexit trade deals.

The move comes as the Prime Minister faces a Commons showdown with Conservative rebels tomorrow. 

They want stronger protections on food standards to stop foods such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-filled beef flooding into the UK, especially from America.

In a rousing call ahead of the crunch Commons vote, Ms Leith, whose son Danny Kruger is a Tory backbencher, said: ‘British farmers are the best in the world – let’s support them this week. Everybody who cares about British high food standards should back our farmers. After all, we are what we eat.’

And she warned: ‘Chlorinated chicken is the least of the problems that could be coming our way in future trade deals.’

Devizes MP Mr Kruger said he would not be joining the rebellion, but declined to comment further, with sources saying: ‘He does not want to get involved in a ‘quote-off’ with his mum!’

Ms Leith’s call to back the nation’s farmers comes after fellow celebrities, including chef Jamie Oliver and fitness guru Joe Wicks, last month used an open letter in The Mail on Sunday to call on the Prime Minister not to ‘trade away our children’s futures’ in the negotiations.

That, alongside this newspaper’s Save Our Family Farms campaign, has resulted in more than 30,000 emails being sent to MPs from concerned voters in the last fortnight. 

And a National Farmers’ Union petition to protect British food has been signed by more than one million people.

Separately, a new YouGov poll for the WWF conservation charity found that an overwhelming 92 per cent of the British public wants current farm animal welfare standards to be maintained in trade negotiations with the US and other countries.

Ms Leith was joined in her call by other leading chefs, including John Williams and Yotam Ottolenghi.

The move comes as the Prime Minister faces a Commons showdown with Conservative rebels tomorrow. They want stronger protections on food standards to stop foods such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-filled beef flooding into the UK, especially from America

Mr Williams, executive chef at The Ritz hotel in London, said: ‘I’m passionate about using the best ingredients and that’s why I support British farmers and always use their fresh, seasonal produce.’

Chef, restaurateur and food writer Mr Ottolenghi spoke of how he was ‘incredibly passionate’ about British produce which ‘has some of the highest standards in the world’. 

He declared: ‘We must value those standards and not allow them to be undermined in future trade deals.’ 

With their combined intervention, the celebrity experts hope to influence MPs before tomorrow’s Commons vote, which is contentious because of International Trade Secretary Liz Truss’s refusal to set up a permanent body to assess the environmental and health impact of any future trade agreements before they are ratified.

A temporary trade and agriculture commission was set up by the Government earlier this year to advise Ministers, but a number of Tory MPs – and a majority of those serving on the commission – believe that a permanent body should be set up to scrutinise the quality of imported foods.

The House of Lords amended the Agriculture Bill last month to require that food products imported under future trade deals meet or exceed UK domestic standards – but Conservative MPs are being whipped to overturn the amendment when the Bill returns to the Commons tomorrow.

However, there was anger this weekend at reports of ‘strong-arm tactics’ by whips, and fears that Ministers will use a procedural excuse to avoid a vote on setting up the permanent watchdog.

Last night Neil Parish, a former dairy farmer and chairman of the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, told The Mail on Sunday that he intended to call for the permanent watchdog to be set up.

Ms Leith’s call to back the nation’s farmers comes after fellow celebrities, including chef Jamie Oliver and fitness guru Joe Wicks, last month used an open letter in The Mail on Sunday to call on the Prime Minister not to ‘trade away our children’s futures’ in the negotiations

‘What possible reason can they have for not enshrining this in law,’ he said. ‘Unless, of course, there was a secret agenda for those teams to cave in and let in cheaper, lower-quality food to clinch a trade deal.’

Former Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers urged Ministers to compromise ‘even at this late hour’, saying it would ‘put to rest any suspicions that at some future point, in order to clinch trade deals, Ministers might allow food produced to far lower standards to flood into Britain’.

Tory backbencher and vet Dr Neil Hudson also made clear he was ready to rebel.

He said last night: ‘By supporting these amendments we are standing up for animal welfare and farming standards both in the UK and globally.’

Ministers have repeatedly insisted that laws do not have to be strengthened.

A No 10 spokesman said the Government was committed to maintaining high environmental, animal welfare and food standards.

Everyone eats food – so the whole country has a stake in the Commons debate on the Agriculture Bill

By Tory MP Neil Parish

Not everyone is a farmer but everyone eats food.

That’s why everyone in the country has a stake in tomorrow’s Commons debate on the Government’s Agriculture Bill.

The Bill, which lays the framework for UK farming after Brexit, will have a crucial role in deciding what food you and your children will eat for many, many years to come.

In May, I led a Commons rebellion on the proposed Bill because it failed to protect our high animal welfare, environment and food standards in law as we leave the EU system and trade as a fully-independent nation.

Sadly, little has changed which is why tomorrow, unless Ministers see sense, I will lead a second rebellion.

While the current Bill doesn’t explicitly reduce standards, it leaves the door open to our domestic standards being undercut in new trade deals.

This is the crux of the problem.

Ministers have repeatedly said to MPs and to this newspaper that we will not compromise on our world-class standards in trade deals.

They cite our 2019 Conservative Manifesto, which puts that commitment in black and white, as evidence.

But it is not Ministers changing our own domestic standards that we are actually worried about – for now at least.

It is that, while we maintain those high standards here, we let in cheaper agricultural imports in new post-Brexit trade deals, undercutting the high-welfare, healthy food our farmers produce, as well as their competitiveness.

Hormone-treated beef and chlorine-washed chicken have grabbed the headlines.

But there other key divergences between UK laws and those of potential trade partners on things like sow stalls, stocking densities, battery cages, antibiotic use, pesticides, fungicides, and more.

The public cares deeply about the issue of food standards and MPs should take note.

Recent surveys by the consumer group Which? show 95% believe it is important for the UK to maintain existing food standards.

Those surveyed included Conservative voters in the West Midlands, North East and Scotland.

That’s why MPs tomorrow should vote to ensure that all agricultural and food imports meet standards equivalent to those set out in UK law, in relation to animal health and welfare, the environment, food safety, hygiene and traceability, as well as plant health.

Doing this will boost the Government’s ability to rule out unpopular compromises when they negotiate those trade deals because they can say Parliament imposed these conditions.

Just as US trade negotiators frequently invoke Congress as the reason they cannot accept certain terms, UK negotiators could refer to constraints imposed by our own parliament.

In other words, it would actually help our negotiating teams – not hinder them.

Unless, of course, there was a secret agenda for those teams to cave in and let in cheaper, lower-quality food to clinch a trade deal.

But as Ministers have repeatedly denied that, what possible reason can they have for not enshrining this in law?

When Sonny Perdue, the US Secretary of Agriculture, recently came to the UK on a trade visit, he said: ‘Let your farmers compete!’

Well, I do want our farmers to compete but on the high standards we value here in the UK.

Some have accused me of protectionism but I just want fair trade.

I want fair trade for a vital sector of our economy, one which in my Tiverton and Honiton constituency drives not just the rural economy but it also supports jobs in food processing and packaging across the country too.

Let’s give them – and the high-quality food – the backing they deserve.

· Neil Parish is chairman of the Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee.

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