The British public are overwhelmingly willing to ditch plans for a post-Brexit trade deal with the United States in order to protect the UK’s high food safety standards, new polling seen by The Independent shows.
The finding amounts to a public vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s Brexit trade strategy, which aims to paper-over a potential hit to EU commerce by having “global Britain” sign deals with other countries around the world – the richest of which is the US.
American trade negotiators are expected to demand Britain opens its markets to US foodstuffs that are currently illegal under EU rules as the price of a free trade agreement. Practices banned in the EU but currently widespread in the US including chlorine-washed chickens, hormone-treated beef, meat from animals fed on chicken feces and crops washed with controversial herbicide chemicals.
A recent US trade department appraisal of EU safety regulations complained of “costly and burdensome” stipulations in European regulations on meat and described aspects of the EU’s regulations on the use of chemicals as “simply unnecessary”.
When asked whether ditching current standards would be a price worth paying for a deal, a full 82 per cent of the public said keeping current regulations in place should take priority – even if they killed a deal – compared to just 8 per cent who said a free trade agreement with the US should go ahead.
Theresa May’s trade chief, Liam Fox, has defended the possible legalisation of banned US agricultural practices, telling MPs that he was “a great believer in giving the public a choice over what they are eating” and that “there are no health reasons why you couldn’t eat chickens that have been washed in chlorinated water”. The international trade secretary has said the media are “obsessed” with such meat.
The polling, commissioned by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) and conducted by Opinium, also shows that the public favour alignment with EU regulations to secure a better trade deal with the EU. A wider report drawn up by the progressive think tank also shows Leave and Remain voters are equally opposed to any reduction in food standards.
Other trade-offs and hurdles to the “global Britain” strategy emerged this week after India’s high representative in the UK said increased free movement for Indians to come to Britain would need to be offered for India to open its markets to UK goods. Though such a move to loosen immigration control would likely give the UK an economic boost, it would likely undermine the Government’s longstanding goal of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands.
Last week Japan’s chief diplomat told The Independent that it would prioritise a deal with the European Union over one with a post-Brexit Britain.
Marley Morris, senior research fellow at IPPR and author of the report said: “Our new polling finds that there is little public appetite for a deregulated, buccaneering Britain post-Brexit. The public overwhelmingly prioritise food safety over a trade deal with the US.
“They also favour continuing to align with EU consumer, environmental, and employment standards over deregulating. With the US commerce secretary Wilbur Ross suggesting that the UK ditch rules on food imports as a precondition of a trade deal, our polling reveals that independently striking trade deals around the world will be no easy ride for the UK government, and will come with its own set of political dilemmas.”
US president Donald Trump has expressed enthusiasm for a “great” and “very big and exciting” trade deal with Britain after it leaves the EU.
Responding to the new findings, a Department for International Trade spokesperson toldThe Independent: “We have been clear that the UK will maintain its high animal welfare and environmental standards in future free trade agreements.”