This time last year, before any of us had ever heard of Coronavirus or COVID-19 or contact-tracing, the big political issue was Brexit. It was an issue that divided families and friends, and caused a great deal of anger on both sides of the debate. For many, this issue was brought to a close when the UK left the European Union back in January.
Now that Brexit has happened, we have to move on to the next stage of working out what our relationship will be with Europe and the rest of the world post-Brexit. To quote the successful Leave campaign, this is “taking back control” bit.
So, alongside scrutinising the Government’s response to the Coronavirus crisis, Parliament is also looking at the new laws that they have come up with to deal with the issue of our post-Brexit place in the world. These proposed laws effectively set out the Tories vision of the future for our country. And I am concerned.
As always with this Prime Minister, it is important to separate the words and the action. Boris Johnson has a tendency to promise a great deal and then deliver much less or even something else entirely. This Monday night was a case in point.
The Government’s Trade Bill sets out some key elements of how the UK will trade post-Brexit. During the election campaign, the Labour Party and many others warned that the Tories were considering putting bits of the NHS on the negotiating table and lowering food standards in trade deals with the United States and others.
We were accused of scare-mongering, but when this was put to the test on Monday night, these fears were confirmed. The Conservatives voted against two important amendments, one was “to protect the NHS and publicly funded health and care services in other parts of the UK from any form of control from outside the UK”, and the other was to ensure that all agricultural imports met the same animal welfare, food safety and other standards as our own agricultural goods. This is to ensure that we don’t get chlorinated chicken and other unsafe foods brought in from the US and elsewhere.
Not only did the Tories vote against these, they also voted against having Parliament approve any new trade deals – a key element of “taking back control”. So, not only can they now sell off bits of our NHS and import dodgy food, there will be no way for Parliament to stop them.
This doesn’t feel much like “taking back control” to me, and I think a lot of people who gave their votes to the Tories in December in Tameside and elsewhere will be wondering what else they might have been mis-sold.