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Britain could block a post-Brexit trade deal with US if it included allowing import of chlorine-washed chickens

There is concern that a post-Brexut trade deal would allow the import of chlorine-washed chickens into Britain

British environment secretary Michael Gove has suggested he could block a post-Brexit trade deal with the US if it included allowing the import of chlorine-washed chickens.

Giving evidence to the Commons Environment Committee, Mr Gove said the issue was one of animal welfare rather than food safety, and Britain would need to be "assertive" in such trade talks.

He said: "The cabinet is agreed that there should be no compromise on high animal welfare and environmental standards.

"In America they cannot guarantee the same high standards in terms of how chickens are reared that we insist on here.

"Unless there is a change in the American side we would say that those animal welfare rules are things on which we will not compromise.

"The whole point about trade deals is that you have got to be assertive in defence of your own interests."

Mr Gove said the Environment Department "punches above its weight" and has "extra muscle" in Whitehall.

He added that parliament could stop the British government signing a trade deal MPs did not like.

International trade secretary Liam Fox has previously said that the issue of chlorine-washed chickens would only be "a detail of the very end stage of one sector of a potential free trade agreement".

The environment secretary told the committee that if the UK did not secure an exit deal with the EU and had to revert to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules it would lead to higher food prices.

"If we went out on WTO terms, and we maintained tariffs... then there would be increased prices for consumers. But also there would be increased opportunities for farmers with import substitution."

Agriculture minister George Eustice quoted research by the Resolution Foundation that on WTO rules retail prices might rise by 4.3 per cent.

Pressed on the issue of the UK agreeing to "full alignment" with EU standards where they impacted on Northern Ireland, Mr Gove said: "Full alignment... means that we seek to achieve the same goals, but we reserve the right to achieve them through different means.

"Full alignment doesn't mean harmonisation."

Asked by committee chairman Neil Parish if he ever woke up in the morning worried about the issue of food security, Mr Gove said: "It's a constant worry in the Gove household waking up in the morning and wondering if we have got enough food."

Mr Parish replied: "I don't think it probably is, secretary of state."

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