Negotiations with Washington would gift the Labour leader a campaign attack lineby David Henig / October 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
The starting gun has been fired on what could be the UK’s first bilateral free trade agreement post-Brexit. On 16th October the US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer sent a letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, “that the president intends to initiate negotiations on a trade agreement with the United Kingdom.” The UK government had already started consultations on agreements with the US, Australia, and New Zealand, but without a specific commitment.
The stakes are high. The US-UK trade relationship is valued at least $160bn dollars annually, and together the US and UK have around $1trn invested in each other’s economies. But perhaps more significantly, the prospect of a US trade deal is likely to spark huge political controversy in the UK, and probably be a major campaigning topic for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.
We can say this fairly safely as it is only two years since talks on the proposed EU-US trade deal, TTIP, broke up without agreement, partly due to campaigns against it across Europe. These were often hard to counter, as you can’t definitively prove some hypothetical bad thing can’t happen before the final text has been agreed, but those of us promoting TTIP could at least point to the EU’s numerous trade deals where none of the worst scare stories had come true.
The UK government has no such precedent for trade agreements. It is therefore going to be hard to disprove the accusations. Indeed, the government is already struggling.
Chicken washed in chlorine is the symbol for the fear that a deal with the US will lead to the UK having to accept food produced to US standards. This is normal practice for US trade agreements, and the letter referred to earlier talks of “removing non-tariff trade barriers” and delivering “timely and substantive results for US farmers.” Conservative MPs are already expressing their fears, with Energy Minister Claire Perry saying in the Times “I don’t imagine we would ever be importing chlorine washed chicken” and Environment Secretary Michael Gove saying that the UK would accept US food standards “over my dead body.”
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has got into a tangle by being rather less definitive in saying variously that we will not “lower” or “compromise” food standards, both words without meaning in a trade deal. However he also recently said that “policy…