UK-US trade negotiation documents, leaked by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to highlight concerns over possible privatisation of NHS services, also reveals US objections to UK-EU environmental protection measures.

The 451-page document covers several meetings between UK and US trade negotiators over 2 years. At the meeting in July 2018 last year, the document states: "The US are very concerned at the contents of the Chequers statement." This refers to Theresa May's draft Brexit proposals for a “common rulebook” which would bind the UK to EU standards and regulations that apply to the remaining 27 EU member states.

The purpose of the common rule book would be to maintain frictionless trade between the UK and the EU after Brexit and allow for "ongoing harmonisation on goods". Harmonised standards apply across a wide range of issues including chemicals, emissions, food safety and pharmaceuticals.

But the US has its own rules and regulations on these issues and according to the leaked document the US sees this as a worst case scenario” for a US-UK trade deal.

One example would be chemicals in food. The EU is aiming to reduce the amount of chemicals in food, while the US continues to use them. Media headlines in recent months highlight chlorine in chickens which is banned in the EU but is still used in the US to remove traces of pathogens after slaughter.

Climate change was also discussed by the Trade and Investment Working Group in November 2017. Clarity on this issue is needed because the US had already stated its intentions to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, while the UK remains fully committed.

At the meeting a UK representative "inquired about the possibility of including reference to climate change in a future UK-US trade agreement". In response, Sarah Stewart, US trade representative covering environmental issues, described climate change as “the most political (sensitive) question for the US, stating it is a 'lightning rod issue,” saying they were bound by Congress not to include mention of greenhouse gas emission reductions in trade agreements.

The latest US-UK trade meetings held in July this year included reducing barriers to US investment “in all sectors in the UK” and to “increase opportunities for US firms to sell US products and services to the UK”, while restricting access to US markets.

The Government insists that the trade talks thus far are not binding. Responding to the Labour leader’s release of the leaked documents, International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss told the Guardian: “People should not believe a word that he says — this stunt is simply a smokescreen for the fact that he has no plan for Brexit and that he has been forced to admit that he wants to increase taxes for millions of families.”

Last reviewed 28 November 2019