We will need to sign new trade deals after we leave the EU – but they cannot drive a ‘race to the bottom’ in environmental standards or workers’ rights.
Today I challenged new Trade Minister George Hollingbery to confirm that the Government’s eagerness to sign trade deals will not mean they destroy these vital protections. He said they would not – but I will be watching these deals closely in coming months.
I am concerned that we will come under increasing pressure to reduce standards. For example, a trade deal with the United States could include an agreement to open our borders to chlorine-washed chicken (something Hollingbery’s new boss Liam Fox has previously defended) or beef grown with high levels of hormones. Both are currently banned in the EU. Other deals could slash health and safety protections for workers, currently enshrined in EU law.
The environment is a success story of the European Union. Over four decades the EU has been a driving force behind our environmental policy, dramatically reducing air pollution, cutting carbon emissions and cleaning up beaches. Other EU laws have removed hazards such as lead in petrol, harmful chemicals and dangerous pesticides.
The EU has also been instrumental in improving workers’ rights in the UK, for example dictating limits to working hours, time off and protections for agency workers.
We should remember the motivation for these protections was originally economic, ensuring a level playing field, so that no one country could destroy its environment or over-exploit its workforce for economic gain. To be a world-class country after Brexit we need high standards, not a race to the bottom.