Sustain Brexit Forum, Autumn 2018
We are planning a Sustain Brexit Forum - Delivering the Goods: What do we need to know and do? We've got the possibility of an exciting London venue, but not yet fully confirmed. Pencil Monday 15th October in your diary and we'll send more details shortly. It will be less than six months until Brexit Day, so an important moment to take stock. We will share updates across the range of Brexit activities and Sustain alliance concerns - especially relating to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Trade Bills - as well as the latest on 'deal' or 'no deal' scenarios; priorities for action; and to strategise together for the coming period. More anon... Sign up to the e-newsletter to receive an update.
Oxford Real Farming Conference, January 2019
Early days yet, but it looks likely that Sustain will reprise our role as stewards of the Brexit Room at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January 2019. Get in touch if you’d like to be involved in the Brexit Room or have ideas for what should be covered: firstname.lastname@example.org. If your ideas relate to the wider Real Farming conference themes, contact: email@example.com by 10 August 2018.
Sustain at the Food Brexit conference, November 2018
Reminder: The Food Brexit conference will take place on 1 November 2018, run by the Russell Publishing Group. Sustain’s chief executive Kath Dalmeny will be one of the contributors to a session on: Watered Down Food Safety Standards, Fact or Fiction? – looking at food safety and standards in trade deals. Sustain alliance friends will be contributing to other sessions, including Anna Taylor from the Food Foundation and Professor Tim Lang from the Food Research Collaboration, among many others.
The possibility of the UK crashing out of the EU with ‘no deal’ has dominated the past few febrile weeks on the Brexit scene. For what ‘no deal’ could/would mean for British businesses, read the cool-headed summary from the Institute for Government. For a glimpse of the complexity of ‘legislating in the dark’ whilst navigating through myriad uncertainties, read Professor Mark Elliott, Legal Adviser to the House of Lords Constitution Committee.
Another landmark report from Professors Tim Lang, Erik Millstone and Terry Marsden, with the Head of Policy for the Chartered Institute for Environmental Health Tony Lewis, warns that a ‘no deal’ Brexit “would jeopardise the sustainability and security of the UK’s food supply”. Their report Feeding Britain: Food security after Brexit urges Government to:
- Maintain a clear and explicit focus on possible adverse effects of Brexit on food security
- Ensure high food standards
- Make the UK’s migration policy available
- Avoid a hard or ‘no deal’ Brexit
The UK gets about 30 per cent of its food from other EU countries (a further 11% via deals done by the EU with other countries), so any serious disruption to the trade flow in food would have major consequences. Not least to the 8.4 million people in the UK who are already food insecure, who would have little resilience to rising food prices (temporary or longer term), nor to scarcity (having no spare money to buy in extra food, just in case). A fair, measured and well-planned approach is vital to avoid causing unnecessary food disruption and anxiety.
‘Notices of Preparedness’ for a no deal Brexit have been circulated to all affected sectors, setting out the implications of different UK-EU deal and no deal scenarios. No – not yet by the UK Government! Only by the EU-27, over the course of the past few months (published as one document last week). Theresa May said that 70 similar notices for the UK will be published later in August – possibly all on the same day – for different audiences, such as businesses, homeowners, farmers, hauliers and holidaymakers. Drafts have already caused a furore among pro-Brexit MPs, who deem them ‘too negative’; meanwhile The Times reports that companies and industry groups receiving such notices will be required to keep the contents secret, by signing Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs).
The Government has said that stockpiling medicines and food may become necessary if there is a ‘no deal’ Brexit, with several media outlets reporting the army would be on standby to help distribute emergency supplies. Notable for the differences in approach between two basic imported necessities – medicine (NHS already undertaking ‘significant planning’) and food (as far as we can tell – ‘open the food import borders and leave it to industry’):
- New Health Secretary Matt Hancock told MPs on 24 July he had asked officials to "work up options for stockpiling" by the pharmaceutical industry. NHS boss Simon Stevens had already signalled on 1 July that “significant planning” is underway to ensure sufficient medicines are available in a ‘no deal’ scenario. The UK buys 350 million packages of medicines from other EU countries each year, including all of the insulin used to treat people with diabetes in the UK.
- Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told MPs on 24 July that the government would be taking steps to make sure there is an "adequate food supply", but underlined it would not be government doing the stockpiling. A report by Jay Rayner in The Guardian on 29 July suggests that the UK’s main food suppliers – via the British Retail Consortium, Food and Drink Federation and National Farmers Union – have not yet been approached, and that ‘Just in Time’ ordering means that there is anyway scarce opportunity or storage space for significant stockpiling – having only about three to five days fresh food available at short notice, at best. The Financial Times confirmed that “Britain’s grocers say they have had no contact with the government about stockpiling food in anticipation of the UK crashing out of the EU in March without a withdrawal deal and have ridiculed suggestions it is their responsibility to begin the process.” A report from the Food Research Collaboration suggests that, “Government is already planning to suspend food regulations in the event of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit, to help keep food flowing.”
Responding to the growing possibility of a ‘no deal’ scenario with the European Union:
- Sustain has urged a clear focus on maintaining high regulatory standards for food, farming and fishing, and for the UK to avoid ‘no deal’ and maintain a close trading relationship with our nearest neighbours – the EU.
- Friends of the Earth said that “A no deal Brexit would be catastrophic for the environment,” and that “Defra is nowhere near ready to leave without a deal, and we don’t yet have even the most basic enforcement mechanisms in place.”
- The NFU and Greener UK warned that crashing out of the EU without a deal could bring many farms to the “brink of collapse” and undermine the protection of the countryside.
- Greener UK (the alliance of leading UK environment groups) said, “No deal Brexit would make UK the ‘dumping ground’ for chemicals banned in Europe,” and that barriers to trade, loss of access to vital EU agencies and weakened cooperation with Europe could all “jeopardise Britain’s environment”. Greener UK has published a new briefing on the implications for the environment of a 'no deal' scenario: download here.
- Union and business leaders of the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry, the European TUC and Business Europe (the European CBI) (together representing 45 million workers and 20 million employers) jointly called for ‘regulatory alignment’ – maintaining frictionless trade, and avoiding a hard border in Northern Ireland – together backing “a mutually acceptable level playing field for workers’ rights”.
- The Freight Transport Association issued a scorching press statement laying out the challenges to the 300,000 truck journeys needed to keep UK-EU trade on the road, arising from lack of clarity and the “reckless attitude” of “some members of the Government”.
- The Netherlands said that they have hired 1,000 new customs officials for the port of Rotterdam, and are recruiting 90 vets for animal and food checks, with new warehousing for inspections, at a cost of 35 million Euros – in preparation for new trading arrangements including ‘no deal’. No similar process seems to be adequately in train in the UK.
- The British Retail Consortium said, “Failure to reach a Brexit deal – the cliff edge scenario – will mean new border controls and multiple ‘non-tariff barriers’ through regulatory checks, creating delays, waste and failed deliveries. This could lead to dramatic consequences, with food rotting at ports, reducing choice and quality for UK consumers. It could also lead to higher prices as the cost of importing goods from the EU increases.”
The Repeal Bill alliance has pointed out that a ‘no deal’ Brexit, with the possibility/likelihood of no transition period or extension for further negotiation, would make rapid acceleration of several UK policy processes necessary. The alliance says in its July 2018 report Scanning the Brexit Horizon, ‘no deal’ would mean the following would need to be legislated on by 20 March 2019. We note how many are relevant to food, farming and fishing – and are also highly contentious, not least in relation to future standards-setting, accountability, regulatory and enforcement mechanisms, trade deals and of course devolution:
- Nuclear Safeguards Bill
- Trade Bill
- Taxation (Cross Border Trade) Bill
- Agriculture Bill
- Migration Bill
- Fisheries Bill
- Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill
- Animal Welfare (Sentencing and Recognition of Sentience) Bill
- Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration
- Environmental Principles and Governance Bill
For the historical record, the Brexit terms agreed by Cabinet ministers (in the Agatha-Christie style Chequers meeting on 6 July), with details confirmed in the subsequent White Paper, were generally welcomed in principle by food and farming leaders, shortly before being picked apart in the detail by resigning ministers, the media and EU negotiators. The Brexit White Paper stated that the UK proposes “a free trade area for goods, including agri-food… The UK and EU would maintain a common rule book… with the UK making an upfront choice to commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, covering only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border.” The explicit itemisation of agri-food in both papers showing how important agri-food standards and trade arrangements are to the whole Brexit story. Responses included:
- From the Sustain alliance: “The common rule book for UK-EU food standards is welcome, but many questions remain.”
- From the National Farmers Union (NFU): This would “ensure that the UK and EU have frictionless access to each other’s markets… protecting the uniquely integrated supply chains and ‘just-in-time’ processes that have developed over the last 40 years”.
- The British Retail Consortium (representing the major multiple supermarkets) said, “Frictionless trade is essential if the industry is to continue to provide the level of choice and value in shops that UK consumers are used to seeing.”
- The Food and Drink Federation (representing the major food manufacturers) said, “Our fragile and highly integrated supply chains rely on seamless trade and common regulatory standards with our closest neighbours.”
At the Royal Welsh Show in July, Michael Gove urged UK farmers to “keep their eyes on the prize” of a free trade deal with the EU and less red tape post Brexit. In an article in the Mail on Sunday, Michael Gove and fellow Cabinet member Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that “The Common Agricultural Policy would not be part of the rule book, and neither would food policy.* So our plan will allow us to deliver a better deal for our farmers and food producers. We can redirect the support we give them to both make them more competitive and to enhance the countryside they care for. The high animal welfare and environmental standards our farmers uphold give our food a world-leading reputation.”
*Food policy? What food policy? Michael Gove lightly sketched in a little more detail when giving evidence to a subsequent parliamentary committee. Defra non-executive director and co-founder of the Leon restaurant chain Henry Dimbleby has been tasked with leading on the development of a food strategy for Defra, which is still “a long way off”. Henry Dimbleby previously worked with Michael Gove’s team and others (including Sustain) on the School Food Plan.
Read Sustain’s briefing for MPs and policy-makers on UK agriculture policy. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rethinking farm support
Academics, public health advocates and food and farming specialists have joined forces to call on the Prime Minister and her Cabinet, formally to recognise public health as a public good in UK agriculture policy. The Food Research Collaboration, Royal Society for Public Health and Sustain co-signed a letter to the PM and Secretaries of State and Ministers for the Defra and Health Departments, highlighting three indicative areas where a ‘public goods or benefits’ approach could help – farm antibiotic controls; pesticide reduction; and fruit and vegetable production.
Sustain is backing the new Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, a group of small and large fruit and vegetable producers, producer organisations, trade associations, and health/food charities. These have come together, coordinated by the Food Foundation, to make the case collectively for supporting the production and consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK.
Tom Lancaster of RSPB has reminded farmers and land managers that, “The debate on payments now is not how to spend the money, but whether there will be any money at all,” and that “Far from being foes of the farming community, green NGOs are now among the few groups outside farming unions arguing for continued investment into farming and land management.” The common aim, he argues, is the need to drive environmental restoration and, with it, long-term public investment in environmental land management, and therefore into farming and farm businesses.
The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) has published a blog: ‘What should an agriculture policy designed for public benefit look like?’ saying, “We want to move away from a system of entitlements to one where land managers are commercial providers of public benefits, with the government as the buyer.” The CLA supports measures that reach as many farmers and land managers as possible, and which encourage farming and woodland management that improve soil and air quality, restore our historic environment, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve animal health and welfare.
Farm subsidies are not the only financial concerns for farmers and rural communities. Sustain member CPRE has challenged Local Enterprise Partnerships to do more for England's countryside, highlighting the need for wealthy LEPs to serve the needs to rural communities, businesses and economies. Over the period from 2014 to 2020, across the 38 LEPs, they have received £6.5 billion of European funding and £7.2 billion across three successive rounds of Growth Deals agreed with the UK Government. Per individual LEP the allocation of these funds varies from £150 million for the Cumbria LEP to £1.07 billion for the Greater Manchester LEP.
Note: The UK Government’s plans for a new Environment Act, green watchdog and principles and governance framework are also highly relevant to sustainable farming (see section on Environment Policy, below).
Why would anyone want to pick our crops?
English agriculture workers are more vulnerable to unfavourable wages and conditions in a system facing worker shortages related in part to Brexit, and where markets do not value farm incomes and employment standards. This needs to change and should be part of the new UK Agriculture Bill due in summer 2018, argues a new Sustain briefing called Why would anyone want to pick our crops? This offers practical solutions to problems amply illustrated by:
- Recruitment agencies warning they cannot secure the number of workers needed by British farmers to pick their fruit and vegetables, in figures released by the Association of Labour Providers.
- An NFU survey showing that last year there was a 12.5% shortfall of seasonal workers required to work on horticulture farms.
- The British Summer Fruits (BSF) trade body warning that its members are already 10% to 15% short of labour and expect to have a shortfall of more than 30% by autumn 2018 as the government drags its feet on a seasonal agricultural workers visa scheme for non-EU nationals. European workers make up more than 90% of the UK’s 30,000 seasonal berry pickers, but are now reluctant to come to Britain due to uncertain post-Brexit futures, better economic prospects at home and a ‘hostile environment’ in the UK.
A recent report by the EEF (Manufacturers' Association) has found employers more widely are now facing an acute and growing skills gap. They report that almost half of manufacturing employers are concerned about accessing the skills their business needs after the UK leaves the EU; 17% of companies saw a slump in applications from European citizens; and 68% want more guidance on what Brexit means for them and their employees.
Agriculture policy news from Parliament
Sustain welcomed a report by MPs on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee - the result of a rapid inquiry into the Defra Health and Harmony consultation on future farm policy, recommending that government should:
- provide thorough sectoral assessment of impacts to identify support for small and medium-sized farms and ring-fencing funds to fund the rural economy and environment;
- address the barriers to productivity;
- consider wider food policy public impact such as reducing diet-related diseases, supporting healthy food in farm payment models; and ensuring use of healthy, affordable and British food in Government food procurement;
- assess which public bodies can coordinate the environmental land management system; and
- guarantee that trade agreements prevent acceptance of agri-food products that do not meet British environmental, animal welfare and food standards.
Michael Gove has signalled that Defra may renege on plans to cap the amount of money that the largest landowners are paid in farm subsidies. He had previously proposed a £100,000 limit, freeing up almost £150 million for ‘public goods’. In June, he told MPs that Defra was exploring alternative plans for “everyone to take a small slice reduction” instead.
On 27 June, Wildlife and Countryside Link joined forces with Greener UK to put on a bustling Farmers’ Market in Parliament. Hosted by EFRA Committee Chair Neil Parish MP and attended by over 50 MPs and Peers, farmers shared their experiences of running profitable farm businesses that have the environment and animal welfare at their heart. The aim was to demonstrate the growing cross-sector consensus on the interdependence of nature and farming and the need for a strong Agriculture Bill (expected imminently) enabling us to use public money to help both farmers and the environment.
Nourish Scotland (a sister alliance to Sustain) believe that recent government publications on the future of Scottish agriculture give no clear direction for farming after Brexit and are “underwhelming”.
The future for UK livestock farmers
The sheep industry must prepare for Brexit ‘no deal’, says the National Sheep Association, emphasising the importance of retaining the UK’s diversity of sheep breeds and stratified system of upland and lowland farms after Brexit, and saying the industry should prepare for the worst case by opening up export markets outside the EU. Chief executive of the NSA Phil Stocker said the industry needed to protect natural capital – air, soil and water – and seek to make efficiencies by reducing losses and improving sheep health and welfare.
The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) warns that “Welsh upland sheep farmers are extremely vulnerable to the impact of Brexit, with falls in farm income predicted no matter what trade deal the UK gets with Brussels.”
The Sustainable Food Trust has said that the UK red meat sector, particularly producers in the hills, simply cannot compete and will lose when exposed to global market forces: “We will never compete on price in a free-trade world, no matter how low we drop our standards (which is something nobody wants to see happen).” They urge producers and UK farm policy to concentrate on:
- A great product, clearly different from the competition.
- An accessible, functioning infrastructure for connecting high provenance product to the marketplace.
The need to re-localise and re-vitalise local food infrastructure, such as local abattoirs and local markets was also noted. A group of interested organisations and individuals, including Sustain, have joined forces as the Campaign for Local Abattoirs (www.localabattoirs.com).
The future for animal welfare
- A new Food Brexit Briefing from the Food Research Collaboration highlighted the opportunities and risks of Brexit for livestock. A Better Brexit for farm animals: what the Government must do to protect welfare standards is by Peter Stevenson, legal expert and chief policy adviser to Compassion in World Farming. It spells out how UK law needs to be updated and amended, as we leave the EU, to make sure first of all that animal welfare standards do not fall, and secondly that any new subsidy system rewards high-welfare farming.
- Libby Peake of the Green Alliance told a parliamentary enquiry, “If the UK leaves the system [of chemicals regulation] where it cannot access the safety information which is owned by EU companies, there is a possibility that we would have to re-conduct those animal tests in order to ensure the same safety standards for a UK system.”
- Defra Secretary Michael Gove said, “It is the advice of officials that there is nothing in the Chequers Agreement that would preclude this or a future government from having a ban, and certainly from having higher standards governing live exports.”
- Farming Minister George Eustice told MPs, "As a country, we are proud of our high food safety and animal welfare standards, and we've no intention of undermining our reputation for quality by lowering our food and animal welfare standards in pursuit of trade deals."
Meanwhile, in EU farming news…
For those interested in how EU agriculture policy will evolve when the UK leaves, legal texts and factsheets on natural resources and the environment have been published by the European Commission.
Read Sustain’s briefing for MPs and policy-makers on UK fisheries policy. Contact: email@example.com
Government releases plan for fishing after Brexit
The Government has opened its consultation on the future of UK fishing with a White Paper: Sustainable Fisheries for Future Generations, presaging a new Fisheries Act as the main instrument to replace the EU Common Fisheries Policy.
As Sustain and colleagues at the New Economics Foundation have argued, there is clear evidence that looking after our marine environment makes good business sense, so there is every reason to aim for the best-managed fisheries in the world. Despite warm sentiments however, the White Paper contains no clear target for all UK fisheries to become ‘demonstrably sustainable’, i.e. being green-rated by the Marine Conservation Society and fished to no more than Maximum Sustainable Yield. It also lacks clarity on improving data collection or guaranteeing public funding to support the transition to sustainable management, so there is much cause for concern. Read Sustain’s response here; meanwhile, Scotland’s rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing said that whilst fisheries are a devolved matter, Scotland’s fishery concerns had been largely ignored in the White Paper.
Changes in wording also signal possibly worrying weakening of sustainability requirements. For example, the White Paper contains no clear, unambiguous statement that the UK will have to limit fishing to ‘Maximum Sustainable Yield’ (MSY) by 2020 – a clear commitment for the UK whilst within the EU. The White Paper mentions MSY, but only in vague terms and with no target date for compliance. Deliberate omission, mission drift or detail to be filled in later? Time and tide will tell – Sustain will point this out. Also, under the EU’s Seabird Plan of Action, the fishing industry was obliged to eliminate bycatch. The White Paper suggests that post-Brexit they would need only to implement “practical and effective risk-based mitigation”.
From conversations and participation in the consultation process so far, it seems unlikely that smaller fishers will be guaranteed fairer access to fishing quota. This is lamentable and ironic given the memorable part that small fishing boats played in the EU referendum campaign, motoring up the River Thames to deliver their message to Parliament. There is no indication that there are any plans to redistribute fishing quota to smaller or artisan fishers. Meanwhile, there are early signs that fish processors based in the UK may be considering moving their operations to other European countries, to be able to access the lucrative EU market tariff-free from within the EU.
The overall aim must be for a “thriving, sustainable fisheries, set within a healthy marine environment, that support coastal communities and provide consumers with a high quality, sustainable product”, argue Greener UK and Wildlife & Countryside Link. “The government’s plans for fisheries after Brexit are promising but alarmingly devoid of detail about its environmental commitments,” lawyers from ClientEarth have said, urging government to include:
- Requirements for government to set truly sustainable catch limits according to the best scientific advice
- High environmental standards for fishing gear and methods and better protection for vulnerable ocean ecosystems
- More resources for robust monitoring and enforcement of fisheries laws
- A commitment that negotiations with the EU and other countries will ensure commercially important shared stocks are managed sustainably
Sustain adds: Government must act as responsible consumers by committing to buy sustainable UK fish through legally-binding standards for food served across the public sector, including NHS hospitals, An investigation by Sustain’s Sustainable Fish Cities, published in The Independent, found that UK fishers are losing out on £62 million because UK companies are buying in sustainable fish from overseas. The Government must help UK fishers collect better data, to enable them to benefit from the growing market for ethical seafood, said Sustain.
On World Oceans Day in June, Defra Secretary Michael Gove also launched a consultation on plans to create more than 40 new Marine Conservation Zones across the UK – safeguarding almost 12,000 square kilometres of marine habitats and marking a significant expansion of the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ of protected areas. Marine groups such as the Marine Conservation Society welcomed the news and responded to the consultation (now closed).
Those interested in fisheries policy overhaul are likely to need to be in it for the long haul. The Blue Marine Foundation estimates it could take 20 years for the UK to fully leave the CFP.
Note: The UK Government’s plans for a new Environment Act, green watchdog and principles and governance framework are also highly relevant to sustainable fish (see section on Environment Policy, below).
The work of the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission, coordinated by the RSA, continues apace. Sustain’s chief executive Kath Dalmeny serves as one of the 15 commissioners, including several fellow Sustain alliance members. An interim report is due in autumn 2018. Activities underway include:
- Devolved Nation and locally led inquiries
- A bicycle-powered tour of communities across the country
- In-depth research and expert roundtables
The aim is to establish a compelling mandate for change across our food system, farming sector and in rural communities; shaping a long-term vision for the future that's fairer, stands the test of time and aligns more closely with changing public values and expectations; and propose solutions to achieve the vision, identifying where communities and businesses can take a lead and where a national policy framework is required. Find out how to get involved.
From the work so far, the Commission has identified five core lines of inquiry, which are being explored in more depth and detail. They cover important themes that seem to be falling into the gaps between policy discussions, with the aim of reframing them, to help make progress, namely:
- Aligning the whole resource – how public money, private money and the hidden resources (social capital) can create public value.
- The future of land use – from regenerating ecosystems to a land use plan for the UK.
- The future of work – from managing labour shortages to increasing opportunities for meaningful work in thriving rural communities.
- Our place in the world – global perspectives on UK food, farming and countryside; from trade relationships to our international commitments to addressing global challenges.
- Food and farming: health and wellbeing – from food grown, bought and eaten, access to green spaces to the impacts on the nation’s health and wellbeing.
Follow the Greener UK alliance on Twitter: https://twitter.com/GreenerUK_
Environment policy developments came during a global heatwave and amidst stories of calamitous loss of biodiversity, including significant declines in butterflies in the UK and the need to regulate pesticides to protect pollinators. Whilst the Brexit manoeuvres rumble on, the Climate Change Committee has patiently kept up its important work, reminding us that: “While other sectors of the economy, such as power, waste and construction, have been steadily reducing their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions over the past decade, agriculture has failed to keep pace,” underlining the need for robust policy and enforcement.
Time for a robust UK Environment Act
PM Theresa May has announced the long-awaited Environment Bill (to become the new UK Environment Act). Amy Mount of Greener UK said, “The Bill will need to put new duties on the secretary of state to deliver on environmental objectives like clean air, recycling and species loss.” Greener UK, ClientEarth and Wildlife and Countryside Link have also been working up detailed proposals for how good environmental governance should be implemented and enforced.
Environmental organisations are coming together under the alliance banner of Greener UK in the call for the new UK Environment Act to deliver “a strong independent watchdog,” in a way that “codifies the environmental principles in UK law, and ambitious measurable targets for nature’s recovery and a healthy environment”. The aim is to achieve:
- An Environment Act, passed by summer 2020 with cross-party support.
- Minimum environmental standards and shared ambition across the four governments of the UK, and cross-border co-operation.
- Ambitious goals set out in the Environment Act (accompanied by a possible UK environment statement and/or legislation by devolved governments), and accompanying narrative from the UK government, providing a strong foundation for UK international environmental leadership.
- The new ‘green watchdog’ and national policy statement on principles in place before post-transition exit day (December 2020) – robust and independent, with the necessary resources and expertise to do the job well.
The UK Agriculture and Fisheries Bills are recognised as important opportunities to press for statutory underpinning for environmental objectives – either by amending these bills, or by securing government promises to include such objectives in the Environment Bill.
“We face an increasingly urgent need to step up collective efforts to address environmental challenges, and meet shared international commitments, in relation to issues such as biodiversity loss, climate change and air quality,” says Greener UK in a new environment policy briefing for parliamentarians and policy makers. “These issues do not respect national borders and will continue to be affected by the policies adopted across the UK and the EU-27 following Brexit.”
The UK’s green watchdog must have teeth
Twenty-five members of Wildlife & Countryside Link have stressed the need for a new UK environmental watchdog to have the capacity and powers to enforce environmental law. Link has called for the watchdog to have sufficient funding, be fully independent from Government and be able to take the Government to court. To be effective, the new watchdog must also have power over both central government and other public bodies, and a comprehensive set of environmental principles must be enshrined in law.
Such concerns were echoed in the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee report, insisting that the green watchdog must have teeth. The EAC called for the Government to establish a new independent oversight body—the Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office (EEAO) — modelled on the National Audit Office (NAO), to ensure that the governance, enforcement, oversight and policy functions currently carried out by the European Commission and European Court of Justice are not lost after leaving the EU. The EAC also called for targets on air, water, soil, biodiversity and other issues to be legally binding and subject to five-yearly reports, in a similar way to carbon budgets produced by the Committee on Climate Change under the 2008 Climate Change Act.
The Chair of the UK’s Committee on Climate Change Lord Deben, and the Chair of the Adaptation Sub-Committee Baroness Brown of Cambridge, have written to Defra Secretary Michael Gove urging him to ensure that the new green watchdog has climate change in its remit. They also echo calls from many other organisations to ensure that the new body has sufficient powers and rigour to hold the UK government to account; and that relevant environmental principles be explicitly included in the Act of Parliament that will establish the body.
Regulation of chemicals, disease control and more
The EU has a regulatory structure with over 40 agencies in addition to the core institutions like the European Commission and the European Parliament. The UK is interested in remaining part of some EU agencies after Brexit, but as the Institute for Government explains, there aren't many precedents.
Environmental NGOs and the chemical industry are in agreement that post-Brexit Britain should remain part of the chemicals regulatory system REACH and the EU Chemicals Agency ECHA, whatever the final outcome of Brexit. As CHEM Trust explains, this would demonstrate “the numerous benefits of the EU’s world-leading chemical safety laws” and preventing the UK having to set up a complex and costly chemicals regulation system of its own.
The Faculty of Public Health has launched a blueprint to recommend how the UK could continue a post-Brexit relationship with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The hope of the FPH is that this will support the government in delivering their commitments to improve health security and continue collaborating with Europe on health issues after Brexit.
Read Sustain’s briefings for MPs and policy-makers on UK policy on food standards and UK policy on trade in food.
As part of the EU withdrawal process, the UK Government has committed to negotiate with the EU for trade deal that would involve ‘a common rule book for all goods including agri-food’ - Sustain's chief executive Kath Dalmeny welcomed the aspiration but raised concerns about the detail.
UK Trade Bill
The UK Trade Bill had its third reading in Parliament during July, with heated debate over key principles. Sustain member Global Justice Now summarises the key developments as:
- MPs will not get a vote on future trade deals
- Devolved administrations remain shut out
- Limited transparency measures are a ‘step forward but not enough’
- A Trade Democracy amendment championed by Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party, was voted down by 314 to 284
- Campaigners have vowed to take the struggle to the House of Lords
Nick Dearden of Sustain member Global Justice Now said, “Over the last year we have put democratic control of trade deals on the political agenda and we’re pleased with the support we’ve received from MPs. We even forced the government to make promises about public consultation, impact assessments and letting parliament know what their trade strategy consists of. This is important, but Caroline Lucas’ amendment would have given MPs the ability to scrutinise, change and if necessary stop bad trade deals. Unfortunately on the big question, the government has refused to give real power over trade deals to Parliament. This is a defeat for democracy.”
The Bill now goes to the House of Lords in September and Trade Democracy campaigners will continue to fight for parliament’s right to hold the government to account for trade policy.
UK preparations for future trade deals
The UK’s Department for International Trade (DfIT) is preparing for trade negotiations after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019. DfIT has published its ‘approach to engagement for the pre-negotiation phase of trade negotiations’ and is seeking applications for positions on the new Strategic Trade Advisory Group “from business to trade unions, consumers and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) amongst others” (all subject to confidentiality agreements). Fill in an expression of interest and return it to: firstname.lastname@example.org by 17 August 2018.
‘Thematic and sectoral working groups’ will also be established to “facilitate expert technical policy exchanges on specific sector and thematic policy areas”. Their objective is “to enable the government to draw on external knowledge and experience to ensure that the UK’s trade policy is backed up by evidence at a detailed level and is able to deliver positive outcomes for the UK”.
As part of the preparations, DfIT have also launched four consultations on UK trade negotiations with: New Zealand; United States; Australia; and the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP). Links to all four consultations can be accessed here. Sustain will submit responses, in discussion with the Trade Justice Movement and others, and encourages everyone to participate – either as an individual or on behalf of an organisation. The consultations close in October 2018 (check via web links for exact details).
Insights on US approach to UK food and trade
Recent moves by the World Health Assembly to encourage breastfeeding across the globe were reportedly blocked by the US, threatening withdrawal of crucial military aid if Ecuador did not champion the US approach. Drawing on decades of research showing that mother’s milk is the healthiest for children the resolution ran into trouble when the US, apparently responding to the financial interests of infant formula manufacturers, objected. President Trump dismissed the story as fake news, but “I know, I was there”, says Patti Rundall OBE, policy director of Baby Milk Action. She gave Sustain an eye-witness account of US government bullying tactics to prevent global efforts to protect breastfeeding and restrict misleading marketing of breastmilk substitutes.
The US Ambassador to the EU (2014-17) Anthony Luzzatto Gardner has reminded the UK (via a letter in the Financial Times) that, “Many, if not most, US companies want the UK to remain tightly aligned with EU regulations in order to benefit from friction-free access to the large EU single market. Indeed the key reason the (like their Japanese counterparts) invested in the UK in the first place is that the UK has been a gateway to Europe. The biggest issues of contention in US-EU trade are in agriculture, including restrictions on the export of hormone-treated beef, poultry disinfected with chlorine, pork containing ractopamine (a feed additive) and of course genetically modified organisms.” He also warns that “the UK would have vastly less negotiating leverage with the US than does the EU” and would face “an administration that… will not hesitate to extract every advantage.”
Eight out of ten Brits are ‘not comfortable’ with hormones in beef production, according to in-depth Which? (Consumers Association) research on public attitudes to Brexit. They also found that nine out of ten consumers think maintaining food standards after Brexit is important.
Clearly picking up the ripples of public disquiet about US trade deals and food standards, the UK Department for International Trade issued a tweet (pictured above) underlining that they consider it a ‘Myth’ that a trade deal with the US will lower food standards, promoting the ‘Fact’ that “Any future deal will uphold food safety, animal welfare standards and environmental protection.”
A report from the Green Alliance on Protecting Standards in UK Food and Farming through Brexit, working with the Co-op, Nestlé, Sainsbury’s and Tesco, highlighted how ‘cheap food’ trade policy would undermine the UK government’s own sustainable farming policy. The argument in essence is that a ‘cheap food’ trade policy would expose the UK’s food system to new risks including vulnerability to disruption in food supply, lower standard food, less information and control over where food comes from and how it is produced, and more environmentally damaging farming both in the UK and abroad. Chief executive of the Green Alliance, Shaun Spiers commented, “The cheap food narrative of Liam Fox and others in Government should worry anyone who cares for the British countryside and the quality of the food we eat.”
Greenpeace Unearthed has secretly recorded the director of free-trade think tank, Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), offering access to UK government ministers in exchange for research report funding. The IEA also said that they had been cultivating conversations with industry and potential donors in the US. An undercover reporter posed as a consultant for a US agricultural investor. IEA director Mark Littlewood said, “Beef is an area that we do genuinely happen to be interested in,” explaining that a meeting with an agriculture minister would provide the donor with the opportunity “for you to say, Minister, I’m really keen to bend your ear about beef”. Explaining the purpose of the paid-for research, Littlewood said, “There is no way this report is going to say the most important thing we need to do is keep American beef out of our market in order to prop up our beef farmers, in fact exactly the opposite.” Littlewood told an undercover reporter that the IEA’s trade adviser Shanker Singham was “unbelievably well connected” to Brexit-backing cabinet ministers including UK trade secretary Liam Fox, UK Defra secretary Michael Gove and former UK foreign secretary Boris Johnson and would be able to introduce the ministers to the prospective US agribusiness donor.
In response to the Greenpeace Unearthed report, a spokesperson for Defra Secretary of State Michael Gove said: “The government and the environment secretary have been very clear that food safety and animal welfare standards will not be weakened after Brexit. We will never be swayed on this. There will no chlorinated chicken entering the UK and we will retain the precautionary principle. That position won’t change, whatever any think tank recommends.”
Other international food and farming standards
Compassion in World Farming has spelled out the gaps in animal welfare standards between the UK and likely future trading partners. They also specified the measures needed to be put in place to protect animal welfare, arguing that buying cheap bacon lets down pigs and their farmers.
The UK should be prepared to relax EU rules on food standards and chemical safety as part of a new trading relationship with India, according to an unreleased report by the British and Indian governments. The official joint trade review – obtained by Greenpeace Unearthed investigative journalists– spotlights a range of non-tariff barriers to trade identified by Indian businesses, including limits on fungicides in basmati rice, the enforcement of food hygiene standards for milk and dairy products such as paneer and the use of hormone-disrupting chemicals across a range of non-food products. The CHEM Trust commented, “The difficulty that Indian exporters face in complying with EU rules on imported products should not be grounds for the UK to reduce standards of protection of human health and the environment."
Whilst not directly a food ruling, a landmark legal case has helpfully demonstrated that trade law can accommodate legitimate public health concerns. Australia has won a major trade dispute over its tobacco plain packaging law, with World Trade Organisation judges rejecting a complaint brought by Cuba, Indonesia, Honduras and the Dominican Republic. Health campaigners hailed the ruling as a “resounding victory” and a test case for public health legislation globally, which could lead to tighter marketing rules for unhealthy foods and alcohol as well as tobacco.
And finally on trade…
The UK gave notice in June that it plans to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) government procurement agreement as a member in its own right after we leave the EU.
For anyone feeling their trade terminology is a bit rusty, this ‘beginners guide to trade tariffs and the WTO’ from Peter Ungphakorn is a handy tea-break read. And with the recommendation of a strong coffee, brush up on your Codex Alimentarius – the food standards used by international trading partners and closely linked to the WTO processes.
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The latest political ping-pong match is over, with the EU Withdrawal Bill having completed its bumpy ride through both Houses of Parliament and having received Royal Assent. The Repeal Bill alliance reports that the Bill improved in many respects from the first draft: “The scope for Henry VIII powers has been reduced, the devolution power grab is less severe, there are some safeguards for environmental protection, and various legal points have been clarified.” But, “None of these changes goes as far as we wanted and there is still a lot wrong.”
By a slim majority, MPs rejected amendments that would have kept the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights that enhance the protection of equality, employment and consumer rights. Amnesty International concluded: “This is a bleak day for human rights in the UK.” It is salutary to note that the new Secretary of State for Brexit Dominic Raab is reportedly no fan of human rights.
But it ain’t over till it’s over. In the three and a half months from mid-December 2018 to ‘exit day’ in March 2019, a very large amount of Parliamentary work will have to happen, including the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill, both likely to raise many of the same issues as those discussed in relation to the EU Withdrawal Bill – not least the Irish border, customs arrangements and devolved policy. The second overall Brexit bill will need to put into UK law the legal implications of whatever deal is agreed with the EU-27, or to provide for the implications of there being ‘no deal’. Buckle up for another bumpy ride.
In the interregnum and Parliamentary recess, let’s share an historical memento for the EU Withdrawal Bill scrapbook (or Brexit bin).