The government intends
to use a US trade deal to bypass democracy, override Parliament and rip down our
By George Monbiot,
published in the Guardian 10th June 2020
manifesto made a clear promise. It pledged that in the government’s trade talks, “we will not compromise on
our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards”. Just six
months after the election, the promise has been ditched. Our government is now proposing that
chlorine-washed chicken, beef treated with growth hormones, pork from animals injected with ractopamine and scores of other foods produced in the United States by dangerous,
cruel and disgusting means will be allowed into this country, as long as higher
trade taxes (tariffs) are applied to them.
secretary, Liz Truss, has made it clear that any such tariffs would be removed within 10 years. It’s impossible
to see the US negotiators allowing them to pass in the first place. The US intends to secure “comprehensive” access to our food markets, while “reducing
or eliminating tariffs”. This nonsense about higher tariffs is a blatant
attempt to soften us up, to sugar the toxic pill of US imports that don’t meet
our standards. When I say sugar, I mean high fructose corn syrup.
It’s not as if our
standards are wonderful. But by comparison to the revolting practices in the
US, our food rules, laid down by the EU, are a haven of sanity. As well as
washing chicken flesh with chlorine, to compensate for the filthy conditions in
which it is raised and processed, and injecting dangerous substances into
cattle and pigs, Big Farmer and Big Food in the US use 72 pesticides that are banned here and food colourings that have been linked to hyperactivity in children, impose no limits on the amount of sugar baby food contains, and permit cow’s milk to contain twice the amount of pus that the UK allows.
What this means is
that we will bring into this country food whose production is banned here.
Either our farmers and food processors will be outcompeted, or our domestic
production standards will be brought down to match. Some Conservative MPs
attempted to insert an amendment into the Agriculture Bill, to uphold the manifesto promise. But it was
decisively slapped down by government loyalists.
The US government
argues that these matters should be left to consumers. We should each be allowed to decide whether we buy cheap vegetables
containing residues of pesticides that are banned here. But I suspect that,
rather than having to read and interpret the labels on everything we buy from
shops, takeaways and restaurants, most of us would prefer to know that all the
food on sale is safe to eat. Anyway, just in case we did try to exercise such
choice, the US also insists that all useful labelling be banned.Perversely,
it has argued that warning labels are “harmful” to
This doesn’t end
with food. In the same section of their manifesto, the Conservatives promised
that “in our trade talks … the NHS is not on the table. The price the
NHS pays for drugs is not on the table. The services the NHS provides are not
on the table.” The leaked dossier of trade documents released by the Labour Party last year revealed that
the US is seeking “full market access” to the NHS. If the promised food and
farming standards were a lie, how long will it be before we discover that the
NHS pledge was also worthless?
I suspect this has
been the agenda all along. The neoliberal extremists who populate the front benches have long sought to rip down our public
protections, rip down our public services, rip down everything that stands in
the way of the most vicious form of capitalism. A trade deal with the US allows
them to do so while disclaiming responsibility for the consequences. Once they
have signed it, they can claim that, sadly, their hands are tied.
Unfortunately, the rules don’t allow us to maintain food standards, and force
us to open the NHS to competition. Perhaps mistakes were made during the
negotiations, but it’s a done deal now, enforced by legal instruments. There’s
nothing we can do. They know they could
never obtain public consent for these policies. A US trade deal would impose
them without consent.
consent is unnecessary. The Trade Bill, in its current form, makes no provision for parliamentary scrutiny of any deal. Parliament has no legal right under this bill to debate or vote on a trade deal, or even to know what
it contains. The bill also grants the government Henry VIII powers to change the law on trade agreements without parliamentary approval. The governments
of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are granted no formal role in
negotiating or approving trade treaties. In other words, nothing is being left
to chance. This is not democracy. This is elective dictatorship.
To make matters
worse, the US is likely to insist that the deal is enforced by an offshore
tribunal, which allows corporations to sue governments if domestic law affects
their “future anticipated profits”. This mechanism has been used all over the
world to punish nations for laws their parliaments have passed. It ensures
that, over time, legislation everywhere has to be tailored to the demands of corporate power. Far from taking
back control, a trade deal on these lines with the US involves a massive
renunciation of sovereign power.
knows that accepting such a deal means no deal with the EU. US food rules are
incompatible with EU standards. In the leaked documents, US officials remark that “there would be all to play for in a No Deal situation”. I suspect
our government sees it the same way. The pigheaded obstructionism of the UK in
the current EU talks is at stark odds with its willingness to prostrate itself
before US power. Dominic Cummings says he intends to stay in his post for the next six months. In other words, he will stay for long enough to ensure that the
transition period is not extended, making a no deal Brexit more likely.
Just as Trump seeks to erase Obama’s legacy, Johnson and Cummings seek to erase Clement Attlee’s much deeper legacy. It’s not about sovereignty. It’s not about taking back control. It’s not about British values or British autonomy. It’s about locking deregulation and the demolition of public services in place, by means that cannot be challenged by either people or Parliament. The combination of a no deal Brexit and a coercive US trade agreement will allow the government to rip down a wide range of rules and protections, creating a paradise for the disaster capitalists funding the party, and hell for the rest of us.
They intend to pursue this agenda regardless of the pandemic, regardless of a petition that has already gained 800,000 signatures, regardless of the economic
and political harm it might do. This is their game, and we must use every
democratic means to stop it.