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MPs Debate EU Withdrawal Bill For First Time

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MPs Debate Repeal Bill

MPs this week returned from their summer holidays and work at Westminster has resumed in earnest. Brexit remains squarely on top of the political agenda. 

Yesterday saw the start of the second reading of the much-discussed Repeal Bill (formally named the EU Withdrawal Bill). This mammoth piece of legislation aims to transfer all EU law into UK law – but has been criticised as an undemocratic “power grab by Ministers”.

The Soil Association’s main priority is to ensure that the Repeal Bill doesn’t undermine the legal principles, protections and standards that our food and farming system depends on. We also believe that the process must be fully transparent and properly scrutinised.

 

We’re working with the Sustain alliance and the Greener UK coalition, who are highlighting concerns and pressing for changes to the Bill that are needed to protect food and farming standards and to safeguard the environment. These include:

  • Converting all existing EU law relating to food, farming and fishing into UK law – such as food safety and quality standards; consumer rights and protections; environmental protection; labour conditions; organic food and farming standards; animal welfare; and chemical and pesticide controls.
  • Retaining legal principles that are important for food standards, public health and environmental protection – such as the precautionary principle, which allows preventive action to be taken in the face of major risks; and the polluter pays principle, which requires environmental damage to be rectified at source.
  • Confirming that any substantive changes to laws and standards, after the Repeal Bill has passed, must be made by primary legislation only – with strict limits to so-called “Henry VIII” powers, which would allow Government to remove or change policies without proper parliamentary scrutiny.
  • Set out new arrangements for good food governance, to ensure continued monitoring, measuring, implementation, compliance and enforcement on issue such as food safety, pesticides, and environmental protection. That requires public bodies with adequate resources, independence, powers, and expertise.

This blog, from Sustain’s Chief Exec, Kath Dalmeny, provides more detail. 

The Bill received fierce resistance from some Conservative MPs as well as from opposition parties– principally on the basis that, in its current form, it amounts to a “power grab” by Government.  

Anna Soubry, Conservative MP for Broxtowe, argued:

“Why does scrutiny … matter so much? I suspect that MPs have been having discussions with businesses and others who rely on EU law to go about what they do, and they are telling us very clearly that what will make their life easier and a transition possible is regulatory convergence, which means sticking to the regulations and rules we have been following for years, whether we are talking about pharmaceutical companies, financial services companies, food exporters, farmers, universities or many other different sectors.”

Kier Starmer, Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras and Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the EU stated that the Bill:

“provides no mechanism for ensuring that the UK does not lag behind the EU in workplace protections and environmental standards in the future and prevents the UK implementing strong transitional arrangements on the same basic terms we currently enjoy, including remaining within a customs union and within the Single Market.”

The passage of the Bill is likely to be laborious, with many proposed amendments and votes. This could delay other Brexit-related legislation – including the Agriculture Bill. The debate on the Repeal Bill will continue on Monday 11 September, and the stage where MPs can propose amendments will start in October.  the phase whent, citizens and devolved adminstrations.

Want to take action?

It’s important that MPs hear from constituents who want high standards for food and farming protected in the Repeal Bill and beyond. You can email your MP using this link from our friends at Sustain - the alliance for better food and farming. Sustain have provided some standard text to use or adapt – but it’d be helpful to mention organic farming and food too, so we’ve written the following text to help.

Suggested paragraph to add to the Sustain email to your MP:

I would also like to you to ensure that organic farming and food is prioritised by the UK Government. That means keeping the legal basis for organic standards via the Withdrawal Bill, and ensuring ongoing alignment with the EU organic regulation in future. This is crucial for local organic farmers and growers who export to the EU and for consumer confidence. Please see also this article which sets out the benefits of stronger Government support for organic farming and food as part of the forthcoming Agriculture Bill.

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