Trade Bill: Four years of demanding a say over trade deals
After four years of campaigning for trade democracy, today the Trade Bill has passed its final stage in the House of Lords, and will shortly become law.
Over that time we have done a huge amount, and there have been some big ups and downs – at some points we won changes, only to see the government walk away from the whole bill or later on, overturn the things that had been won.
It is clear the fundamental argument for meaningful democratic scrutiny has been won among MPs and peers of all parties.
We shouldn’t oversell that – we didn’t succeed in a key thing that we set out to do, which was to ensure that MPs would get a vote on trade deals.
But we have completely changed the conversation, we have forced the government to be less secretive than it would have liked, and we have won concessions.
So what happened in our campaigning for trade democracy?
We first start calling for trade democracy
Trade democracy petition launched, signed by 265,000 of us over the next few months
Opposition parties commit to trade democracy in their manifestos
Launch of a parliamentary motion calling for trade democracy, which was signed by over 100 MPs, the third most popular out of 700 motions
More than 60,000 of us make submissions to a UK government consultation on trade policy, calling for trade democracy
Day after the consultation closes, the UK government tables the Trade Bill ignoring the consultation, and including no trade democracy provisions
Global Justice Now director, Nick Dearden, gives evidence to parliament’s International Trade Committee on the need for trade democracy. Over the next year, we give written and in person evidence to several committees. Five different parliamentary committees recommend that current trade scrutiny arrangements are inadequate and need to change
Trade Bill day of action – including a walking tour; a public meeting with speakers including Labour’s shadow trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, and Green MP Caroline Lucas; and a demonstration outside the Department of International Trade
Caroline Lucas tables a trade democracy amendment to the Trade Bill. We email our MPs asking them to co-sign it and more than 50 MPs do
Business groups such as the CBI and ICC join unions and NGOs in the call for trade democracy
UK government votes down Lucas’ amendment
Scottish government publishes its views on what Scotland’s role should be in future trade arrangements, including trade democracy measures
67,000 people sign a petition to the House of Lords calling for trade democracy
Scottish parliament refuses to give its consent to the Trade Bill regarding devolved issues
UK government announces plans for weak versions of some of the things we have been calling for – but refuses to put them in law
Lords decide government plans are not good enough and vote through a trade democracy amendment. Government drops the entire bill, fearing that it could not overturn this amendment
We launch a legal appeal against the government’s failure to release papers related to trade talks
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn holds up redacted trade papers from our legal appeal in a TV debate during the election campaign. The full papers are later leaked, proving many of our concerns to be justified
Government reintroduces a new Trade Bill, stripped of all amendments, in the new parliament with an 80 seat majority
Rebel backbench Conservative MPs table a trade democracy amendment, but the government votes it down
Tribunal orders the government to hand over certain papers
Lords vote through a trade democracy amendment
Government repeatedly votes down the trade democracy amendment at ‘ping pong’ between the Lords and the Commons. Bill is passed without trade democracy.
However the government continues in practice to do weaker versions of some of the things we have been calling for, and commits to a ‘Grimstone Rule’ that a trade deal will not be ratified without a debate if parliament calls for one
Photo: Guy Smallman/Global Justice Now