Trade Bill: Four years of demanding a say over trade deals

Trade Bill: Four years of demanding a say over trade deals


By: Jean Blaylock
Date: 23 March 2021
Campaigns: Trade

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?

March 2017

We first start calling for trade democracy

May 2017

Trade democracy petition launched, signed by 265,000 of us over the next few months

June 2017

Opposition parties commit to trade democracy in their manifestos

July 2017

Launch of a parliamentary motion calling for trade democracy, which was signed by over 100 MPs, the third most popular out of 700 motions

October 2017

More than 60,000 of us make submissions to a UK government consultation on trade policy, calling for trade democracy

November 2017

Day after the consultation closes, the UK government tables the Trade Bill ignoring the consultation, and including no trade democracy provisions

November 2017

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

February 2018

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

March 2018

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

May 2018

Business groups such as the CBI and ICC join unions and NGOs in the call for trade democracy

July 2018

UK government votes down Lucas’ amendment

August 2018

Scottish government publishes its views on what Scotland’s role should be in future trade arrangements, including trade democracy measures

September 2018

67,000 people sign a petition to the House of Lords calling for trade democracy

September 2018

Scottish parliament refuses to give its consent to the Trade Bill regarding devolved issues

February 2019

UK government announces plans for weak versions of some of the things we have been calling for – but refuses to put them in law

March 2019

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

June 2019

We launch a legal appeal against the government’s failure to release papers related to trade talks

November 2019

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

March 2020

Government reintroduces a new Trade Bill, stripped of all amendments, in the new parliament with an 80 seat majority

June 2020

Rebel backbench Conservative MPs table a trade democracy amendment, but the government votes it down

September 2020

Tribunal orders the government to hand over certain papers

December 2020

Lords vote through a trade democracy amendment

February 2021

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

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Photo: Guy Smallman/Global Justice Now