By Rupert Read and Treve Nicol
Following the leak of documents from six rounds of trade talks between the US and the UK, it is clear that decisions are being made behind closed doors that represent pretty grim outlines to post-Brexit Britain. The direction of conversation in the talks appears to be designed to deepen the UK’s dependence on other (i.e. American) economic systems, while isolating us from our EU neighbours by compromising our environmental, food and health standards.
It will be difficult to remain protected via old regulation as our political alignment drifts further from what we knew as part of the EU. So it is vital that we are vigilant to protect our food, our health, and nature, in the approaching scenario.
As presented in the leaked documents, it’s no surprise the US is using these trade talks to pressure the UK government into as hard a Brexit as possible. They want the UK to adopt US standards and regulations so that it is easier for US corporations [with ‘protection’ (we know what that terms means in this Orwellian usage) for tech companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook] to move into the UK market, and for that they need the UK to break with EU standards. The leaked papers show the US threatening that the trade deal will be off if the UK agrees a Brexit deal that keeps it aligned with the EU.
If American standards are what we are moving towards and we see an increase in corporate capitalism in the UK, it’s only a matter of time before we will be experiencing doctors bills, chlorinated chicken and lawsuits of private companies against the UK government in ‘corporate courts’. In fact, all of the above have already been present in the trade talks, according to the leaked documents!
Yes; the sale of American-produced chlorinated chicken has been discussed and the US offered to help the UK government ‘sell’ it to the British public – and nobody was going to mention it. What’s more, the two governments have taken steps to ensure that the trade talks are not covered within standard Freedom of Information rules by making the trade talks ‘informal’, meaning they don’t need to report their contents to Congress and the public. With such trade deals critical to the very future of the UK, their refusal to declare information on these shady trade conversations is effectively lying to the public.
To add to the public distortion, the consideration of dangerous anthropogenic climate change (which of course, was denied by the US president until this became less politically advantageous for him) is being banned from the trade deal discussions. This is likely going to lead to an increase in trade of dirty fossil fuels and in fossil fuel intensive sectors, undermining international action at this crucial time in the face of the international climate emergency. That would be a plain reckless thing to do.
On a related point then, something which particularly concerns us in the leaked documents is the unsurprising but nevertheless depressing fact that the US Government is clearly pressuring our Government to drop the ‘Precautionary Principle’. This is a key protection for us and for nature; if the Trump and Johnson Governments had practiced precaution in relation to the coronavirus pandemic (as some other countries such as New Zealand did), they wouldn’t now have hundreds of thousands of graves on their hands and consciences. This would therefore be a particularly absurd moment to ditch the Precautionary Principle.
Yet Global Justice has shown that that is just what these talks look set to do: “The US are clear that they want to change the UK’s precautionary approach to food regulation – in which products need to be proved safe before going on the market. Instead they want the UK to move to the US system where things are assumed to be safe until damage or harm is proved. They also have a clear preference for voluntary standards, created by big business, rather than government regulation. Such a model in the US has allowed the flourishing of industrial farming, with animals pumped with steroids, hormones and antibiotics and farmed in atrocious conditions.”
Why should the UK exhibit desperation and scrabble for crumbs from the American table – rather than aiming for greater self-sufficiency? With all our influence and resources, the UK should demonstrate leadership re how the whole world should be acting in these times of pandemic and ecological crisis. And in our opinion, such leadership would start by reducing supply-lines, not increasing them, and by increasing standards, not reducing them.
If the UK Government truly wants the best for the nation, these trade negotiations should not be taking place, or at least should be established with completely different ethics. We are at a pivotal moment between phases of society as the COVID pandemic perhaps wanes.
For this moment of post-Covid reset is perhaps our last chance to rebuild a way of life that allows the natural world to breathe. As Jem Bendell points out with reference to the warnings from the United Nations and The World Health Organisation, post-Brexit trade deals that fail to protect nature would mean the UK Government is “complicit in increasing the risk of the next pandemic”.
Green House Think Tank’s report “Another Brexit is Possible” outlines a strategy for Brexit in the era of COVID-19 and climate chaos. Its core message is that we must build resilience and security through greater national self-sufficiency together with global cooperation. These goals are imperative to the prosperity of the UK post-Brexit.
If the Government (and the country) don’t realise that sooner, they’ll realise it later.
Prof. Rupert Read is a co-founder of Green House and co-author of ‘Another Brexit is Possible’. He teaches at the University of East Anglia and his current research focuses on the Precautionary Principle.
Treve Nicol BSc Environmental Physics is a Freelance Data Analyst and Environmental Consultant.