On Monday (October 12), MPs voted to overturn measures aimed at protecting UK food standards in future trade deals.

The House of Lords amendment to the Agriculture Bill would have required agricultural and food imports to meet domestic standards but it was rejected by 332 votes to 279, despite 14 Tory rebels supporting the clause.

Also on Monday, farmers demanding that food standards be upheld in post-Brexit trade deals took part in a tractor demonstration in central London.

Conservative Environment Secretary George Eustice said the legal protection "wasn't necessary" and the Government had given assurances to the NFU that it would "protect and uphold our standards".

Mr Eustice said: "We will be maintaining food standards - it's a manifesto commitment.

"We've already got legislative processes that protect those standards and so this clause wasn't necessary to protect those standards."

South West Farmer:

Stock image representation of chlorinated chicken

Speaking on BBC Good Morning Scotland, he continued: "We already have a prohibition on the sale of things like chlorine-washed chicken or hormones in beef and that's not going to change."

He added: "We care deeply about animal welfare as well, so we're clear that we will use tariff policy to ensure that we effectively maintain a tariff barrier against producers who are not matching our standards."

READ MORE: Tractor protest in London today as MPs prepare to vote on food standards

Asked if the UK Government would walk away from trade talks if the US insisted on lower standards of food imports, Mr Eustice said: "I don't think they will jeopardise a trade agreement.

"At the end of the day, the UK is the third-largest market in the world for food measured by import value - we come only after China and Japan.

"The US and many others would like to have access to our market, and the general rule here is if you want access to someone else's market, then you should abide by the customs and rules of the market that you seek access to, and that's what we'll be explaining."

He added: "In any negotiation, you have to be very clear about your mandate and stick to your red lines, and so in our approach to all of these trade agreements maintaining animal welfare standards is right up there. It's one of our key things that we're aiming to do."

Mr Eustice explained that MPs have the power to reject a trade agreement during the ratification process and suggested including protections in the Agriculture Bill could "derail" plans to roll over trade agreements on existing EU terms.

South West Farmer:

The Save British Farming tractor demo in London on Wednesday, July 8

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross was one of 14 Conservatives - and the only Scottish Tory - who voted against the Government to support the legal protections.

Former environment secretary Theresa Villiers also rebelled, but Mr Eustice said they would not have the whip removed over the "perfectly normal" difference of opinion and for voting with "their own personal conscience".

READ MORE: Last chance looms to back British farming in future trade deals

Mr Eustice also said he understood why the NFU were opposed to the Government's rejection of legal protection and said: "I can understand that farmers will be apprehensive.

"This is a time of change as we leave the European Union and start to have new trade agreements with other parts of the world.

"I can understand that apprehension, but we've got a very clear stance that we set out and that we've explained to the NFU that will protect and uphold our standards and will also protect our sensitive sectors like beef and sheep."

Responding to the Agriculture Bill’s completion, CLA President Mark Bridgeman said:

“Government Ministers have successfully convinced MPs they can be trusted to protect food production standards without the need for legislation.

“Time and again Ministers have promised to protect British farmers from a flood of cheap imports produced to animal welfare and environmental standards far below our own. They must now make good on that promise and show that such trust is well placed.

“Farmers across the country will be watching Government’s every move very closely from here on in. The CLA will do all it can to support Government efforts to promote free trade – so long as their guarantee to uphold our standards and values is maintained permanently.”

Gareth Morgan, head of farming and land use policy at the Soil Association said: “We are very disappointed the House of Commons has rejected key amendments on import standards, climate change and pesticides in the Agriculture Bill, that has been proposed by the House of Lords.

“Putting these protections into law is vital to protect us against trade deals that could lower food production standards, threaten our environmental and climate change commitments, and undercut British farmers.

“We must go further to uphold the UK’s high standards for food and farming. We urge the House of Lords to hold their ground and send the amendments back to the Commons again to give MPs who voted against these changes a chance to rethink.”

RSPCA Chief Executive Chris Sherwood said: “Tonight, the Government once again failed to make good their manifesto promise that they will not sell out the UK’s animal welfare for a quick trade deal. The decision of MPs to reject a crucial amendment to the Agriculture Bill which would have stopped lower welfare imports from being allowed into the UK is the strongest signal yet that the Government wants to leave the door open to deals which could see chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-treated beef, eggs from hens in barren battery cages and pork from pigs reared in sow stalls flooding our supermarket shelves.

The vote also shows a disregard for the British public, 83 per cent of whom said they did not want lower standard imports coming in from the US when we leave the EU. It is now up to the Lords to represent the conscience of the public and stand up for our farm standards."