A leaked memo from Number 10 has surfaced that raises alarming questions about the future UK/US relationship.
The memo relates to the ongoing and secret trade deal negotiations between the two countries. According to the Observer, the Number 10 letter details an ‘update’ to the ‘ministerial mandate’ for the talks. The substance of that update? That the UK will have “no specific policy” on animal welfare in the negotiations.
The Observer revealed details of the memo on 7 June. It says the note went out at the beginning of last month and:
The publication asserted that it “reveals serious cabinet unrest over the shape of a US deal and appears to suggest UK regulations could be changed”. The specific section of the memo it is referring to with regards to changing UK regulations reads:
Consultation and agreement from relevant colleagues is sought before agreeing to change domestic policy or regulations as part of the negotiations… In the context of preserving the integrity of UK domestic law, any decisions taken in sensitive areas… must take into account the potential legal implications for the UK and be agreed by the relevant ministers.
On animal welfare, the memo says that the ministerial mandate was now “being updated to reflect” the fact that said ministers will have “no specific policy” on the issue. The Observer noted:
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The revelation will raise more concerns about the government’s commitment to upholding “high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”
It’s extremely important to us and to a great many voters. We would be very worried if that position were to change.
Minister at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Zac Goldsmith, challenged the reports:
This is the precise opposite of the truth. Government only last week re-affirmed its manifesto commitment that animal welfare will not be compromised through trade agreements. That relates both to our own produce and produce that we import. It could not be clearer. https://t.co/JFYKPKek6v
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) June 7, 2020
He also responded to a further recent report that the government is planning a two-tier import system, whereby higher tariffs are placed on imported food produced in low animal welfare situations. Goldsmith effectively dismissed this story as “media speculation”:
It's not that difficult!
One is an official government statement; the other is media speculation.
The government policy on this is clear and the government can be judged against it. https://t.co/3z4exh7Rq2
— Zac Goldsmith (@ZacGoldsmith) June 6, 2020
It’s unsurprising that the Observer‘s scoop has caused a stir though, or that Goldsmith’s ‘trust us on this’ messaging has fallen flat. Because Boris Johnson has shown himself, repeatedly, to be untrustworthy. Plus, the Conservatives have a poor record on the issue of animal welfare.
The Conservatives, for example, near unanimously voted against recognising sentience in other animals, i.e. the notion they have feelings, in 2017. Persecution of wildlife in the UK – often for kicks – continues unabated in the country, with successive Conservative governments doing little to stop it. Indeed, hunting in the UK has much support among the Conservatives. Meanwhile, Johnson’s government is marching forward with HS2, which will destroy centuries-old wild spaces and threaten the wildlife that depends on them.
On the matter of trust, within a week of winning the 2019 general election, Johnson’s government backtracked on a promise to include ‘maintained and increased’ environmental protections – such as food standards – and workers’ rights as part of the Withdrawal Agreement. Indeed, a leaked Brexit paper revealed in the Financial Times in October that year suggested the UK government was planning to “diverge” from the EU on those protections post-Brexit. More recently, the government rejected an amendment to the Agriculture bill that would have stopped post-Brexit imports made to lower animal welfare standards.
Nonetheless, the government continues to say it will maintain the current standards. In response to the Observer story, a spokesperson said it had been:
very clear since the outset that we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards
In these circumstances, however, it’s only natural that people are concerned by the Conservative government having “no specific policy” on animal welfare in the US trade talks. Because it’s easy to see how badly that could go for the welfare of other animals and the safety of food in the UK when you know the Conservative Party’s record.
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