CUMBRIAN farm leaders have joined forces with lobbyists in welcoming the Government's U-turn on strengthening the powers of the Trade and Agriculture Commission.

But they pledge the fight to protect UK food and farming standards is 'far from over'.

Efforts are being stepped up to try to persuade MPs to support a ban on imports of food that do not meet the UK’s high standards, despite a move by government over the weekend to offer parliament more scrutiny of future trade deals.

"It is a massive achievment. It has been a hard struggle to get to this stage, but we now have to make sure that deals are scrutinised so that everyone is aware of what is proposed, and that no future trade deals will damage British farmers," said Alistair Mackintosh, west Cumbrian farmer and National Farmers Union (NFU) Cumbrian council delegate.

South Lakes MP Tim Farron said it was welcome news and he wanted to pay tribute to the tireless campaigning by the NFU in forcing the Government's hand on this.

"However, I do remain concerned that the Departments for Trade and Agriculture had to be brought kicking and screaming to reach this point," he added.

"This does not fill me with hope about what will happen in future trade deals and so I will continue to fight for British farming and food standards to be put into law when the Agriculture Bill returns to the House of Commons ."

As recently as last month, Defra Secretary George Eustice and Farming Minister Victoria Prentis were insisting the TAC did not need to be given any legal responsibilities, and could be reconvened if necessary after being disbanded around Christmas time. But after a long fight from farming groups and peers in the House of Lords, Ministers have agreed to table an as-yet-unpublished amendment to the Trade Bill, which will make the commission permanent and give it formal status in law.

NFU President, Minette Batters said: “This decision means everyone who cares about our trading relationships with the rest of the world – MPs, stakeholders and the public – will see independent expert advice from the Commission on future trade deals before they are ratified.

The Tenant Farmers Association (TFA) has hailed the Government’s decision as an important step forward.TFA Chief Executive, George Dunn, said "It’s taken a long time, but we are delighted that the Government has accepted the arguments that have been made by farmers, environmentalists, public health professionals and representatives from animal welfare organisations. It would be unsustainable to enforce high standards on our domestic food production whilst allowing them to be undermined by giving access to low standard imports under international trade deals.”