Leaving the EU: Agriculture — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 3:37 pm on 1st February 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Conservative, Brigg and Goole 3:37 pm, 1st February 2018

Thank you, Mr Bone. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship today. I am not a farmer—I am perhaps unique in that. I do farm votes, however, and I am pleased to say that my productivity rates in every election have improved, so that means I am doing a good job for the farmers I represent. Indisputably, I represent the finest farmland in the United Kingdom, in east Yorkshire and northern Lincolnshire, which is some of the most productive. [Interruption.] I am pleased to hear the cheers of agreement from my hon. Friends.

I have a number of points to make, many of which have already been made, but as Members new to the House will have realised by now, that does not prevent somebody else from making them. I would emphasise the point made by Mr Carmichael. I thought his speech was excellent and there was not much I could disagree with. Particularly important were his two points about a UK-wide framework and maintaining the integrity of the market within the UK. I entirely agree. It is an innovative idea to leave the European Union and then copy the European Union’s decision-making model, but it is one worthy of consideration.

In considering agricultural policy, we have to think in the broader context of the whole of food and drink in the UK and how we support that entire sector. What we do in the agricultural sector is so important in the supply chain through to the food and drink sector, which is such an important part of our exports. I am very involved in food and drink export promotion in my role as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to Canada, and we need to ensure that policy is connected across Government with that in mind.

Comments have been made about labour flexibility. I am a Brexiteer, and I think we have made the right decision. Last night, I was a remainer, for staying in this place. I look forward to the second vote—obviously, we voted to leave by a very narrow margin.

I and most of my constituents fully understand that we have to maintain labour flexibility. I think most of the public will buy into an immigration system that we can trust, which matches skills to the areas of the country with shortages. Brexit gives us the opportunity to have a sensible, informed debate about immigration, as has happened in many countries, such as Canada and Australia.

I have another point here, but I cannot read my own writing—I used to be a schoolteacher—so I will ignore that. I agree with the comments that were made about animal welfare. My real reason for coming here this afternoon is that I want to talk about what we do in terms of our trade deals with the rest of the world. As I said when I intervened on Kerry McCarthy, we must build trade deals on the basis of evidence. In the previous couple of Parliaments, I was very involved in the all-party group on transatlantic trade. It originally focused on the transatlantic trade and investment partnership negotiations, which of course are going nowhere, but eventually focused on the comprehensive economic and trade agreement.

I want to chide the Secretary of State slightly, because some of his comments about American food production and chlorinated chicken have not been helpful to our future relationship. Having access to the US market is incredibly important to British farmers post-Brexit, just as it is important for American farmers to gain access to our market. Any agreement must therefore be based on evidence. Let us look to the CETA model. In those negations, the language that Ministers, Secretaries of State and European Commissioners used was always modest—I will not say that it was not extreme, because that would be a terrible thing to say. The EU and Canada had big differences on standards. In particular, we had a 20-odd year dispute with Canada at the World Trade Organisation about hormones and antibiotics in beef, but it was resolved through CETA and has now ended. Of course, that beef is not coming into the European Union.

Where we have differences, it is still possible to negotiate a deal. Some of the comments that have been made about things such as chlorinated chicken have fed anti-American bigotry, which would not be accepted in any other relationship. There is a lot of evidence out there about chlorinated chicken. I do not propose to go into it, other than to point out that a person would have to eat a full chlorinated chicken to get the same amount of chlorine as they would get from one glass of water. I do not see many people advocating drinking or importing raw water. We must do this on the basis of evidence.

Some of the differences between the EU and the US are based on trade defence, rather than science, so let us have a scientific, evidence-based trade policy. The Secretary of State should be conscious of the fact that talking down the prospect of trade deals with a market as big and important as America is not particularly helpful. That said, it would be incredibly difficult to come to such a deal—I do not underestimate this—particularly if it includes agriculture. The all-party group on transatlantic trade went out and met various American food producers, including an American beef producer—he had a Stetson on—pork people and chicken people. I am not going to pretend that it will be easy to negotiate a deal. Given the agricultural propositions in CETA, it may well be very limited, but let us not buy into this bigotry. Let us ensure that our policy on agriculture and trading relations more generally is evidence-based. I hope the Minister will take that message back to his Secretary of State, who otherwise is doing an excellent job in his new position.