- Exclusive: Liam Fox is planning to scrap EU food standards using controversial “Henry the 8th” powers, multiple sources have told Business Insider.
- The UK trade secretary wants to use government powers to rewrite UK food standards in order to strike a post-Brexit trade deal with the Trump administration.
- Sources claim Fox wants to alter food standards through the Trade Bill. Fox described the story as “fake news” in a tweet.
- Labour accuses Fox of risking putting UK “farmers and food producers out of business.”
- The UK will need to lower its food standards to sign a comprehensive trade deal with the US.
LONDON – Liam Fox is planning to use controversial “Henry VIII” powers to scrap European food standards in order to pave the way for a trade deal with the US after Brexit.
Theresa May’s government has insisted that they will not water down EU regulations which currently prohibit the sale of products such as chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef in Britain.
However, Fox and Crawford Falconer, the UK’s chief trade negotiation adviser, have privately discussed rewriting UK food standards through the upcoming Trade Bill, a source in Fox’s Department for International Trade told Business Insider.
The Trade Secretary plans to use statutory instruments which allow the government to rewrite parts of legislation without a vote in parliament, in order to alter the bill once it has been voted on by MPs.
Fox's plans were confirmed by another government source as well as two sources who work closely with his department.
"Nothing is completely off the table. We are going to keep the same high level of health and safety standards but we are on course to negotiate with the US for an FTA and that will require compromise," a government source said.
UK food standards currently mirror those of the EU. The EU enforces stringent rules and regulations on food and the environment. These prohibit contentious agricultural products like chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef from entering EU markets, including the UK's.
However, Fox believes the UK should diverge from EU rules after Brexit in order to sign wide-ranging free trade deals with countries with lower standards.
Trade experts have warned that any post-Brexit UK-US trade deal will likely require the UK to abandon the EU's food standards. Sir Peter Westmacott, the UK's former ambassador to the US, told BI that US-produced agricultural products would also be produced at a "relatively low cost," posing a threat to UK farmers.
A government spokesperson denied that the Trade bill would be used to lower food standards after Brexit.
"It is not true that the Trade Bill will lower UK food standards and to suggest otherwise is false," they said.
Fox described the suggestion that UK food standards will be lower after Brexit as fake news.
Outfoxed by Gove
Fox has previously defended the potential sale of chlorinated chicken in the UK.
"There are no health reasons why you couldn't eat chickens that have been washed in chlorinated water," the Trade Secretary told MPs last year.
However, Fox's push to reduce UK food standards have been resisted by Michael Gove's Department for Environment, who are wary that it would contradict Gove's promise not to compromise environmental standards.
"DEFRA and DIT are not pals," a source who has worked with DIT said.
"DEFRA have a big trade team now which sees its mandate as stopping DIT from doing silly things. BEIS (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) are also gearing up to battle DIT, but are further behind in the process."
Gove has previously publicly dismissed suggestions that the UK should lower standards in order to win a deal with the US.
"The Cabinet is agreed that there should be no compromise on high animal welfare and environmental standards. In America they cannot guarantee the same high standards in terms of how chickens are reared that we insist on here," he told MPs last year.
"Unless there is a change in the American side, we would say that those animal welfare rules are things on which we will not compromise."
'Nightmare scenario' for British consumers
Fox's apparent determination to push ahead with plans to alter food standards after Brexit comes as the prime minister comes under renewed pressure to abandon plans to sign up Britain to continued regulatory alignment with the EU after Brexit.
The Initiative for Free Trade, a right-wing organisation with close links to Fox and US President Trump, will this week unveil proposals for a UK-US free trade deal based on cutting back food and environmental regulations.
Fox's colleague, Treasury minister Liz Truss, reportedly told one of the think tanks involved in the proposals that the UK is being held back by "a thicket of regulation and control" and should pursue an "Anglo-American dream."
The government's opponents accused Fox and the government of setting up a "nightmare" scenario for British consumers.
"Theresa May has not even concluded a withdrawal agreement and already Liam Fox is seizing powers to lower our food and animal welfare standards and protections," Barry Gardiner MP, Labour's Shadow International Trade Secretary told BI.
"All in order to strike a quick and grubby trade deal with President Trump.
"When will the Tories understand that lower environmental standards, chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef is not a dream but a nightmare? Opening up our markets to big US agribusiness risks putting many of our farmers and food producers out of business and fundamentally damage our countryside."
Labour MP Peter Kyle, a leading supporter of the People's Vote campaign, told BI: "In the UK we are rightly proud of the high-quality, world-class food we produce. Our farmers do not want to reduce standards or to allow cheaply-produced, lower quality imports to flood the market just to appease the likes of Donald Trump."
"Our food production and environmental standards must not be carved up at the whims of Liam Fox."
A senior source in the House of Lords warned that peers would also block any move by Fox to redesign the country's food standards using Henry VIII powers."It will go down like a bucket of sick," they told BI.
"For Henry VIII powers to be abused like that would go down very badly in the House of Lords."