Cumbrian farm leaders have reacted with disappointment after MPs rejected their latest bid to protect UK standards in post-Brexit trade deals.

MPs voted by 332 to 279 – a majority of 53 – to overturn House of Lords amendment 16 to the Agriculture Bill which sought to ensure trade deals at least match UK domestic animal welfare standards.

Fourteen Conservative MPs, including former Defra secretary Theresa Villiers and Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross, as well as Penrith and The Border MP, Dr Neil Hudson rebelled against their own party to support the amendment, but it was not enough to defeat the government.

“The Government is hell bent on having trade deals at any cost and that is the real challenge,” said Alistair Mackintosh, National Farmers Union Cumbrian Council Delegate.

“But we mustn’t take anything away from the hard work done by the NFU. The fact that this amendment was actually debated and voted on in Parliament was a great achievement,” added the west Cumbrian beef and sheep farmer.

“What it has done is raise awareness of how important food standards are and animal welfare to consumers and farmers. I am not saying all is lost. We need to have some representation around our food standards within the trade bill,” he said.

NFU President Minette Batters told The Cumberland News: “Once again the Commons has debated the Agriculture Bill without any binding commitments on how to safeguard our farmers’ high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection in our trade policy.

“While I was very heartened to hear many MPs express support for safeguarding our food standards, it was particularly disappointing that they were unable to vote on Lord Curry’s amendment that would strengthen the role of the Trade and Agriculture Commission and with it the role of Parliament to have proper scrutiny of new trade deals.

“The future of British food and farming is at stake. Without proper safeguards on future trade deals we risk seeing an increase in food imports that have been produced to standards that would be illegal here. I hope the Agriculture Bill returning to the House of Lords gives a new opportunity for the Lords to put forward an amendment that will give the Commission more teeth and enable MPs to have their say; one that can be heard by the House of Commons, with a final vote to see those safeguards put in place.”

In a socially-distanced meeting, Dr Neil Hudson met with local farmers and NFU staff to discuss current crucial issues facing agriculture – the phasing out of the Basic Payments Scheme and the new Environmental Land Management Schemes (ELMs), part of the Agriculture Bill which are currently being piloted. The biggest concern raised by the group was the importance of upholding the country’s high animal welfare and farming standards in future trade deals.

Dr Hudson pledged to support the amendments in Parliament: “As an MP and a veterinary surgeon, I will continue to stand up for animal welfare and for the farmers in Penrith and The Border, across Cumbria and the wider UK. We have the best farmers and produce great food using high standards. We should be very proud of that. I will continue to work with Government, but I am prepared to again vote against them on this, as I have already done in both the Agriculture and Trade Bills, to ensure our high standards in animal health and welfare and food production are upheld.”

Mike Sanderson, Penrith NFU advisor said: “We thanked Dr Hudson for his support of the NFU’s stance over inferior food imports in the Agriculture Bill and his reassurance he would back our position again if he had to when it came back to the House.”