CELEBRITY CHEF Jamie Oliver and the Daily Mail would not normally march hand in hand, but all credit to them for mounting a petition against a lowering of standards for food imports.

This is an issue which from the outset has been for farming the critical flaw in Brexit. Farmers were lulled with false assurances from the government about maintaining standards, but those are now on the giant bonfire of broken political promises.

Assurances mean nothing. Only legislation counts and on that the government failed to deliver. It had a golden opportunity, in the shape of the amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would have blocked imports that did not meet UK standards. This was rejected and those Conservative MPs from rural areas and the DUP in Northern Ireland that supported the government still need to be challenged about that decision.

Only with the raising of this issue has a light bulb gone off with the general public. As part of the EU single market we have taken EU food quality standards as the norm. Those guaranteed us the safest food and highest animal welfare standards in the world – all backed with a first rate traceability system.

Only now are people realising that this is not matched elsewhere, particularly in the United States. There more drugs can be used in meat production, environmental standards in intensive units are a lot lower, labour laws are more lax and poor practice can be masked by using chlorine in poultry processing wash water. These meet US hygiene standards, but they are far below those of the UK and the EU.

We have now reached the crunch point that was always coming. The trade minister, Liz Truss, has been told by the Americans to forget a trade deal if the UK makes a stand over food quality. Her immediate response was to back down, forcing Boris Johnson into yet another U-turn and broken promises.

What lies ahead are cheap food imports that will undermine UK farming. From within the Westminster bubble this looks good. If we see it as akin to a television soap we have the leading character, Boris, surrounded by an adviser, Dominic, who is a master of the dark arts and a cabinet fixer called Michael. He was Boris's best friend, then his worst enemy and then his best friend again because he gave him a nice job. Between them they can see the real plot of the soap. It will convince people Brexit is a success, even if the economy is in a nosedive. A trade deal that brings in cheap food would cut prices on supermarket shelves and people love cheap food. This would be presented as proof that Brexit works.

The retailers would not suffer. They care little about who fills shelves as long as they are filled. Food processors would have access to cheaper ingredients and could repackage these in the UK. Boris could table thump that this is part of his 'Great Recovery' plan and proof that not only did he 'get Brexit done' but made it a success. Michael, who has had a frustrating time getting the EU-27 to listen to him, could finally show them he was not bluffing when he said he had other fish to fry.

In this soap the only losers would be farmers. But the government knows there are not many votes there, and that it can pay them off to be park keepers. For Dominic this would an easy deal to sell. A government adviser, before coronavirus came along, had already claimed the UK does not need farmers and could instead copy Singapore and import the food it needs.

Like all soaps this stretches reality to make a point. However the threat to farming is real and has always been a fault line in Brexit. Farming has lost all influence at Westminster and this was confirmed by the defeat of the amendment to the Agriculture Bill.

The biggest show in town for the government is a headline grabbing trade deal with the US. Without any economic logic, it prizes this politically over a deal with the EU-27. The influence farming has in the UK came largely from the power of the European farming lobby. It drove policy that had to be followed at Westminster.

In the game now being played farming has lost, so we may hope that where politicians have failed, Jamie Oliver succeeds.