Trade deals must not come at cost of the environment, says Gove

The Environment Secretary gave short shrift to Boris Johnson’s call for a’super-Canada’ Brexit deal, declaring: ‘I want a super-Britain deal’.

File picture of Environment Secretary Michael Gove (Victoria Jones/PA)
File picture of Environment Secretary Michael Gove (Victoria Jones/PA)

Andrew Woodcock

Britain’s environmental and food quality standards and animal welfare protections must not be diminished in order to secure new trade deals after Brexit, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has warned.

Relaxation of regulations is widely seen as the key to striking a deal with the US, whose commerce secretary Wilbur Ross has warned that maintaining European standards which ban chlorine-washed chicken or GM crops would be a “landmine” to any trans-Atlantic agreement.

Mr Gove also rebuffed former foreign secretary Boris Johnson’s call for a “super-Canada” free trade agreement with the EU, which would leave Britain free to develop its own system of standards and regulations.

Restating his support for Prime Minister Theresa May’s Chequers plan for post-Brexit relations with the EU, Mr Gove told an event on the fringe of the Conservative conference in Birmingham: “I’m in favour of a super-Britain deal.

“The Prime Minister has put forward a plan which I support which would both have frictionless trade with the EU and no requirement for a border either in the Irish Sea or between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

“The Prime Minister has been clear we would not lower social or environmental protections. I think, rightly, that’s where the public are.”

I'm in favour of a super-Britain deal Michael Gove

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Following warnings from the National Farmers Union of a halt to food exports if Britain leaves the EU without a withdrawal agreement, the Environment Secretary acknowledged a no-deal Brexit would be “disruptive”.

But he said he believed that authorities on both sides of the Channel would put measures in place to mitigate the impact of no-deal on food supplies.

Mr Gove told the Greener UK meeting: “I have been very clear, as have my Cabinet colleagues, about the vital importance of not lowering environmental or animal welfare standards as we pursue new trade deals.

“If we accept food that is grown or goods that are produced in a way that is environmentally damaging in another country in order to displace domestic production, then what we are doing is simply offshoring environmental damage, we are simply making other people pay the price in green terms, and that would be wrong.”

And he said: “we need to make sure that in every deal we do we recognise that there has to be a proper sense of the environmental impact of the commerce in which we engage.”

Asked if he was concerned about the impact of a possible no-deal Brexit, Mr Gove said:  “I do worry about it and I think a deal would be much, much better.

“If we left without a deal, we and the EU would put in place all sorts of arrangements in order to make sure the impact was mitigated, but it is certainly not my favoured option.

“I don’t think intrinsically a no-deal Brexit with the right policies is harmful to the environment. I think we can do the right thing with our own domestic legislation and international commitments.

“But it is certainly the case that it would be disruptive initially and it would be a difficult period. It is certainly not something I would contemplate with a glad heart.”

Mr Gove said there was an “enlightened self-interest” for the UK maintaining high food standards.

“I think for more and more people food production is going to be based on quality,” he said.

“The more people know about how our food is produced, the more I think a more discerning market will buy into that.

“I hope I’m not being naive. I recognise that price matters. But that is the way the food market is going and therefore I think there is a particular strength for the UK in being known as the home of quality food.”

On a lighter note, Mr Gove was briefly struck dumb when asked which part of the natural world he most resembled.

“I’ve been told I look like a meerkat. I’m not sure how accurate that is,” he said, before finally declaring: “I’m a worker bee – I depend on lots of other people so I can make something worthwhile.”

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