UK ministers gain power to allow lower-standard food imports, The Guardian

  • Ministers will be able to approve the import of animal and agricultural products of a lower standard than currently permitted in the UK, after attempts to amend the trade bill failed. The government has repeatedly vowed not to allow the import of chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef, but has refused to sign those pledges into law.
  • The House of Lords put forward amendments to the trade bill that would have required future trade agreements to be scrutinised by parliament, with a view to ensuring standards are retained, but the key amendment fell on Tuesday night by 353 votes to 277.
  • Campaigners said the new post-Brexit arrangements for food imports and food production standards in the UK would allow ministers to make sweeping changes to existing food safety regulations without consultation. They pointed to loopholes in the government’s regulations that mean food standards can be altered without consultation or fanfare. They said the rules would make it difficult to even find out whether standards had been lowered.

Will the UK really refuse trade deals over human rights? BBC

  • The UK is forging its post-Brexit path as a “confident, independent nation – and an energetic force for good”, according to the government. It’s free to set trade on its own terms, pursue opportunities and higher living standards.
  • Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has warned that British companies will face fines, if they can’t show that their supply chains are free from forced labour. Mr Raab told the BBC that the UK should not be engaging in free trade negotiations with countries whose record was “well below the level of genocide”.
  • Amendments to the Trade Bill currently going through Parliament would oblige the government to assess the human rights records of potential partners. One amendment proposes allowing the High Court to declare a genocide in other countries, and forcing the immediate cancellation of trade deals with said nations.
  • Mr Raab, however, says the decision to declare a genocide can’t, and shouldn’t be, delegated to the courts. Rather, it’s for MPs to hold the government to account over trade deals. But Labour MPs, who have written to their Conservative counterparts urging them to support the amendments, say they’ve already been denied powers of scrutiny.
  • The UK is not planning a deal with Beijing and has indicated it won’t do a deal with countries that don’t share its democratic values. But both nations have their eye on joining the wider Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. With imports and exports worth almost £80bn in 2019, China already scores as one of the UK’s largest trading partners, and it’s not just about frocks and financial services crossing borders.

EU ‘not punishing’ UK financial services sector, London envoy insists, FT

  • João Vale de Almeida said Brussels was waiting for more information from the UK before deciding whether British financial services regulation should be deemed “equivalent” to the EU’s rules. Britain has argued that its rules are, by definition, equivalent, given that the UK only left the European single market on January 1. The EU, however, said it wants details of Britain’s future regulatory plans. Both sides are aiming to agree a memorandum of understanding by March on regulatory co-operation, but that does not guarantee that Brussels will grant equivalence rulings.
  • Meanwhile Mr Johnson has confirmed he will offer £23m in compensation to cover post-Brexit disruption to sales of British fish and shellfish to the European market. The addition of new regulations covering exports of seafood, particularly from Scotland and the south-west of England, has caused huge disruption to exports. Downing Street said the problems were “temporary”. The Scottish National party said the package was nowhere near enough to compensate for what it said were more than £1m in lost daily sales for the fishing sector because of post-transition trade difficulties.
  • The European Commission announced on Tuesday that it was creating a new “service” within its bureaucracy to monitor the rollout of the trade deal. Brussels confirmed that Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, would become a special adviser to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on UK matters.
  • Maros Sefcovic, one of the institution’s vice-presidents, will be the EU’s chief representative on the “partnership council” that will govern the implementation of the trade deal. One of the first items on the partnership council’s agenda will be a request from the EU to extend the period of provisional application of the trade deal beyond the end of February, allowing the European Parliament more time to scrutinise the text.
  • Both the parliament and the bloc’s national governments have indicated that they are keen on an extension, which would allow the assembly to ratify the deal in March. But MEPs are also working on a back-up plan to vote around the end of February should the UK decline to grant more time, meaning that the deal is not in any danger.