Circumstances surrounding publication of the Russia report show a lack of transparency from government that campaigners looking to protect UK standards should be mindful of, according to Friends of the Earth.
Friends of the Earth trade campaigner Kierra Box said the circumstances surrounding publication of the Russia report suggested there are “real questions” to be asked about access to information about “when and how information is currently guaranteed, if it’s guaranteed when it’s in the public interest and to protect our standards”.
She added: “The lessons we’ve learnt in the last 12 months don’t seem to suggest the system is up to scratch.
“And as a nation, developing an independent trade policy for the first time in decades you would think we would learn the lesson from that, that we need far better scrutiny, far more transparency and far less politics in the decision of sharing information and that democracy.”
A number of groups and charities had hoped the Trade Bill would carry an amendment to protect UK food, animal welfare and environmental standards in post-transition trade deals, as well as another to protect the NHS. But these amendments were defeated on Monday (20 July 2020) evening.
Following the defeat of the amendments, Box said there was a small possibility that further discussion around import standards could take place on Thursday (23 July),the following week, or after recess in the Lords committee stage of the Agriculture Bill.
However, she thought debate around standards would more likely resume in the Lords, as part of the Trade Bill’s passage, after recess. Box felt the Lords may well pick up on the conflicting information the government has given out over the issue of standards because “those scrutiny issues, those issues of governance and transparencyare something historically they’ve been very concerned about. And that’s where amendments were agreed to the bill last time round”.
Box pointed to a series of events, on Monday and Tuesday (20, 21 July 2020), hosted by the Green Alliance think tank, attended by environment secretary George Eustice and minister for trade policy Greg Hands respectively, where she said both were “hugely unclear” about import standards.
Box said: “Greg Hands was specifically asked about non-regression and standards and gave a textbook answer; they are already protected in law and anything that would be changed would have to be changed through a vote in parliament. And that’s not true –secondary legislation is not a vote in parliament. So I think that kind of stuff might get picked up on in the Lords.”