Giving away control

Crashing out of the EU will mean subservience to US capital with more than its chlorinated chicken says Dave Toke

Now that it seems we’re heading for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit the battle lines will be drawn between those still arguing for a closer relationship with the EU and those who want a trade deal with the USA. It will be the left and the greens on one side and the right and far right on the other. We should prepare for this struggle! A strong focus will be on whether we abandon the EU rules which effectively bar US crop and animal products which, variously, do not meet animal or human safety standards. This includes whether we have to swallow (literally) the much mentioned US chlorinated chicken. It also includes whether we will be forced to accept beef from cows treated with genetically modified hormones (which is acknowledged to harm the cows through over-milking) and also whether we will continue to be given the right to know whether a food comes from GM sources.

Of course this is a battle about to whom we give away control. Do we carry on with the food and animal safety regulations that we’ve got with the EU or do we adopt the ones that the US Government wants us to? Now that we’re leaving the EU we will have no control over the EU regulations and certainly no control over the American regulations that we will be expected to comply with under a US trade deal.

The problem for the UK is that after a ‘no-deal’ Brexit there’s little chance of a trade agreement with the EU until at least the Irish border issue is settled, and with the nature of the future relationship with the EU hanging in the air, it will be difficult to agree substantial trade deals with other countries. Indeed even the various trade deals that the EU has with other countries (making up around a quarter of our trade in addition to EU trade) will lapse after Brexit. This leaves a hell of a mess, with countries lining up to impose their conditions on a much weakened Britain.

The US Government, aided by plenty of their right wing cheer leaders in the UK, will be taking advantage of the UK’s weakness. Indeed there may be strong pressures coming from the right wing to renounce the prospect of negotiations with the EU about trade in order to secure an agreement with the USA instead. Such a deal of course would include opening up British markets to US interests in general and forcing the UK to accept terms that the EU have always rejected that make the UK (including the NHS) subservient to US business interests.

What we have to do is to fight against the imposition of a US backed anti-green agenda on the UK – indeed the acceptance of such an agenda may make a future close relationship with the EU all but impossible. This is because if British food and animal welfare regulations are changed then the EU will not agree a trade deal with the UK that involves areas affected by these issues. We can’t have one rule for US imports and another for British and EU produce – the EU won’t accept that even if it was practical.

It may be that the UK can agree a trade deal with the USA whilst avoiding the US impositions that I have mentioned, but it will involve a big struggle to do this and it will delay making an agreement with the USA for quite a while. Politically this will unite a number of disparate factions – the greens at the head of the struggle, alongside most British farmers who do not want to lose business to American imports and the left who don’t want to be dictated to by US corporate interests. But, on the other hand, we will be acting in a changed political context where right wing British nationalism will be a lot stronger. 

Dave Toke

Dr David Toke is Reader in Energy Politics and Law at Aberdeen University. His latest book, Low Carbon Politics, is published by Routledge.