Even though the Government whipped sufficient MPs to reject a House of Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would have required future food imports to meet domestic standards, the fact that Tories such as Julian Sturdy and Jason McCartney rebelled is noteworthy.
Yorkshire MPs with reputations for loyalty, both represent constituencies with a significant farming presence and their unease is further evidence of a growing breakdown of trust between Ministers and the country at large; indeed Mr Eustice now has ‘previous’ for this after backtracking over the planned Yorkshire-wide flooding summit.
But what will have perturbed farmers – and food producers – was the tone of the Commons debate when MPs raised the remit of the Trade and Agriculture Commission. They wanted to know, with reason, why its jurisdiction will only last for six months when they believe it should be a permanent fixture and that it should have greater powers to intervene.
Yet they were incredulous when Victoria Prentis, the Environment Minister, told them: “I am afraid that the Trade and Agriculture Commission is not within my gift.” Pressed again, she said it was for International Trade Secretary Liz Truss “who is not with us today”, though it is noted that Ms Truss was later present for Parliamentary votes.
This is not joined-up government given how food standards and trade deals are intrinsically linked. This is Ministers hoping for the best – and it will be little surprise if farmers escalate their recent protests while doubling down on calls for a new overhaul of labelling laws so only genuinely British produce can be marketed and sold as such.
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