The Brief: Headless chlorine chickens

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter.

Chlorinated chicken, washed eggs, beef dripping in hormones. Sound tasty?

British cuisine’s bad reputation is only going to get worse after Brexit because its Leave-backing politicians still fail to grasp the complexities of global commerce.

UK trade boss Liam Fox’s Washington trip this week was meant to pave the way for a post-Brexit deal with the United States. But it’s ended up making waves for all the wrong reasons.

Obviously the UK can’t negotiate new trade deals until it’s fully left the EU but that didn’t stop Fox saddling up the Brexit horses and going across the Atlantic to flog his British wares and snake oil to the Americans.

But all he seems to be coming back with is an empty promise from Donald Trump and the chance of participating in a brutal race-to-the-bottom in quality standards.

He’s also confirmed (as if confirmation were needed) that the UK’s leaders are woefully ignorant of how the EU actually works.

Fox was visibly annoyed when asked by the media if the UK would start serving up chlorine-washed chicken, currently banned in the EU, given Washington’s insistence on trade deals covering agricultural products.

He said the media are “obsessed” with the chicken issue, aka chlorination chicken, aka ‘swimming poulet’. Fox was then challenged to eat one live on TV after he dismissed it as a “detail” that can be addressed towards the tail-end of negotiations.

This illustrates both his and the UK government’s lack of understanding of a smorgasbord of problems.

Firstly, it means the chances of an EU-UK trade deal after March 2019 have worsened because it suggests Brussels will have to impose checks on British goods entering the single market if there are concerns about quality.

Secondly, it complicates the already messy Gordian Knot that is the Irish border question. If products of inferior quality can enter the Northern Irish market, then Dublin will surely have no choice but to back a hard border.

Thirdly, it completely undermines one of the main raison d’etres of Brexit: ‘taking back control’. As new Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable rightfully pointed out, any plans that involve signing trade deals without giving parliament a vote would constitute a bypass of sovereignty.

Maybe taking back control actually means giving it to whoever you’re most desperate to do business with.

Lastly, it shows how narrow-minded Brexit-champions like Fox and Dan Hannan are, because this is not a storm in a teacup about Kentucky Fried Chlorine Chicken, that’s just an emotive example that plays well in newspaper headlines. The problem threatens to engulf so much more.

A tiny fraction of current US-UK trade is agriculture based. It is in the chemical and manufactured goods sectors where a lowering of standards could hit hardest. Once you open the Pandora’s Box of environmental and health standards, financial regulation and social policies are not far behind.

Environment Minister Michael Gove, who has changed his mind on a near endless list of policies, insisted today that the UK would not sign a deal that involves a race-to-the-bottom.

But that just shows how divided the British leadership really is. The prime minister hasn’t even weighed in yet.

They really are running around like headless chlorine chickens.

Click here to read our Special Report on quality schemes and see what the UK is waving goodbye to.

The Roundup

The UK government has at least announced it intends to ban sales of petrol and diesel-powered cars by 2040 as part of a package of polices to clean up the country’s air quality and allow people to generate, store and sell their own electricity.

After today’s College meeting, the European Commission decided not to invoke Article 7 against Poland immediately. But it “stands ready” to use the Lisbon Treaty’s “nuclear option” if the PiS government further undermines the rule of law.

The EU’s top court overruled a decision that removed Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas from a terrorism blacklist, as well as throwing out legal cases brought by Hungary and Slovakia on the bloc’s refugee relocation programme.

The US Congress adopted fresh sanctions on Russia, Iran and North Korea yesterday. EU governments said the decision will harm European interests and disrupt their diplomatic efforts. Donald Trump also tweeted that transgender people are no longer welcome in his country’s armed forces.

Greece’s minister for digital, media and telecoms said the Greek economy was out of the woods but he would not let up in the fight for fair and legal TV licencing.

Southern EU countries are world leaders in food quality: five countries hold 70% of the bloc’s food quality labels. Check out our infographic for the whole picture.

Following a visit from U2’s Bono, Emmanuel Macron has decided to boost development spending after all. His initial budget contained deep cuts to France’s international efforts.

Paris is bouncing back after a bad year: tourist numbers plummeted in 2016 over fears of terrorism, but figures for early 2017 hint at a full recovery.

A third of British people think running through fields of wheat is a naughty thing to do. And you might have thought politicians would’ve learned not to stand in front of posters by now. But not this one

Roundup by Samuel White

Views are the author’s.

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