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The International Trade Secretary, who is leading the UK’s fight to secure a number of global post-Brexit trade deals, has been warned to expect crushing defeats in Parliament over the coming days around her “toothless” defences against sub-standard foreign food in the agreements. Tory rebels will take part in a series of votes in the House of Lords this week. But they are preparing to join Labour and independent peers in an attempt to force Ms Truss to strengthen the Trade and Agriculture Commission, and let Parliament protect family farms.
The International Trade Secretary may be facing further chaos as defeats in the votes could also trigger further revolts from Tories when MPs begin to debate the plans in the House of Commons next month.
Conservative rebels are now calling on Ms Truss to reach a late compromise.
Tory peer Baroness McIntosh of Pickering warned that failure to come to an agreement could see many British farms “go to the wall”.
She said: “They are prepared to meet high standards, but we must have a level playing field and not undercut those standards with sub-standard imports.”
The votes on the Government’s Agriculture Bill in the House of Lords come over increasing fears ‘lower-standard’ meat such as US-produced chlorinated chicken or hormone-fed beef could be served in Britain.
A survey for the sustainable food website Foodprint revealed nearly half (12) of the 25 firms questioned (including fast-food outlets, hotel, pub and coffee shop chains) declined to say whether they would buy such foreign food following post-Brexit trade deals around the world.
Downing Street has continued to refer to the Conservative manifesto from last year, which included a commitment to uphold food and animal welfare standards in such agreements.
But farm and food campaigners are calling for more to be done, and are demanding the Government fulfils that pledge by ramping up the powers of the temporary Trade and Agriculture Commission only set up two months ago, and subsequently making it permanent.
Crossbench peer and retired farmer Lord Curry will this week insist in the Lords the body is placed on a statutory footing.
He will also call for the Commission to report on all post-Brexit trade deals before they are completed with another country.
This move will be supported by senior Tory peer Lord Randall of Uxbridge.
The Liberal Democrats are also expected to back the plans.
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Lady McIntosh will also urge the temporary body to create criteria for maintaining standards at least as high as UK ones for agricultural goods imported under any trade agreement.
Labour peer and dairy farmer Lord Grantchester said: ‘The Commission is devoid of powers.
“What’s needed are legal guarantees without which farmers will be forced to compete against lower safety, welfare or environmental standards.”
But in a move that could create further tension in the Conservative Party, Ms Truss is showing little sign of offering a compromise.
A Downing Street source said: “Liz recognises the concerns of Lord Curry, but thinks the current scope of the Commission is sufficient.
“We will never sign a trade deal that undercuts farmers or compromises on our high standards.”
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