5 November 2019
Border posts could be required at Gretna Green and the Severn Bridge in response to widening regional standards in food safety that could open up after Brexit, our new Briefing Paper warns.
Our analysis warns of the potential for very different regulatory approaches between the UK Government and devolved authorities towards controversial food practices including chlorinated chicken, GM crops and pesticides.
The existence of such discrepancies would likely have a significant and detrimental impact on the UK’s ability to strike trade deals, analysis by Dr Emily Lydgate, Chloe Anthony and Prof Erik Millstone has warned.
The new study warns that Brexit food safety legislation gives UK ministers powers to make policy changes to food safety laws without primary legislation – avoiding the scrutiny of Parliament through the use of Statutory Instruments (SIs).
The Brexit SIs confer powers to amend and make future food safety laws to UK Government ministers for England, Welsh ministers for Wales and Scottish ministers for Scotland allowing for greater scope for devolution beyond what is possible in the current EU framework.
Such changes have the potential to vastly increase devolution of food safety regulation with Scottish and Welsh authorities committing to retain EU regulations – creating the prospect of trade barriers between England and Scotland or Wales.
Dr Lydgate, Fellow of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, said: “Food safety SIs are a potential flash-point for Scotland, which wants to maintain alignment with the EU, and Westminster which promises to pursue a US trade deal that will alter UK food safety legislation.
“Negotiating a US trade deal that Scotland opposes is certainly not viable, and could even fuel a push for Scottish independence.
“If one or more devolved administrations refuses to re-align its food safety regulations from those of the EU to comply with US standards, after a US-UK Free Trade Agreement, it will complicate the flows of agricultural and food products within the UK.
“This raises the question of how the UK can avoid introducing internal UK regulatory controls and border checks to ensure that products comply with divergent jurisdictional requirements.”
Our analysis suggests the UK’s post-Brexit food safety rules will fall short of the level of protection currently provided by the EU.
UK ministers have been granted extensive powers to make secondary legislation to correct ‘deficiencies’ in ‘retained EU law’. Our analysis warns these powers are being used to change key policy areas and legal frameworks.
Prof Millstone, Emeritus Professor in the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU) at the University of Sussex, said: “Our analysis suggests Brexit SIs will allow ministers to exercise considerable powers of discretion when authorising ingredients in pesticide products, amending GMO authorisations and thresholds for labelling, authorising food additives and approving substances for animal carcass washes.
“Ministers may issue guidance impacting substantive policy content or make new rules governing food safety by secondary legislation, without proper Parliamentary scrutiny, and using – powers that exceed those vested by the EU in the European Commission.
“Those considerable powers could be a way to overcoming Parliamentary resistance and public opposition to aspects of a UK-US trade deal.”
The authors recommend four steps to avoid the worst case scenarios of weakened and imbalanced food safety regulations in the UK after Brexit:
Read the full Briefing Paper: Brexit food safety legislation and potential implications for UK trade: The devil in the details.
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