The Telegraph, June 1, Owen Paterson MP
On 2nd June 1774 – 246 years ago – the British Parliament passed the second Quartering Act, requiring Americans to provide British soldiers food and lodgings at American expense. At the time, the Act was referred to as one of the four “Intolerable Acts” which galvanised the Revolution.
Think how contemporary Americans would react if today’s Parliament passed a similar law. Yet given the number of UK civil servants potentially needed to inspect each and every US farm which protectionist amendments to the Agriculture Bill could demand, we are sailing into similarly ridiculous territory. The Americans would, surely, be well within their rights to think of the measures which the protectionists now advocate in the same way as their ancestors. It is simply “intolerable” for UK domestic legislation to tell other countries what they must do.
Since the Bill cleared the Commons earlier this month, there have been persistent but unfounded claims that by rejecting calls for the UK to ban all agricultural products from countries that are “below the UK’s standards”, MPs have voted to undermine UK farmers, or to “sacrifice” them for a UK-US Free Trade Agreement.
The first point is that it is already the case that products imported into the UK have to meet the UK’s food safety standards. The Government has been unequivocal that, without exception, these standards will not be adjusted to secure a trade deal. This is eminently sensible.
Secondly, the protectionist view ignores how reliant UK farmers already are on exports and how enormous the benefits of expanding them could be. The UK already exports over £23.9bn of high-quality food and drink. By enabling British farmers to take up cutting-edge technologies such as gene editing, they will be able to boost productivity and compete at world prices. It is wrong to suppose that, given a sensible regulatory environment which embraces innovation, they could not compete on the global stage.
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