Liam Fox forced to apologise for ignoring parliament in support of CETA trade deal

Wednesday, 26 October, 2016

Liam Fox MP, Secretary of State for International Trade, appeared today before the European Scrutiny Committee to discuss why the Government did not give MPs the chance to debate CETA (EU-Canada trade deal) before the Council expected to agree its implementation.

The Secretary of State was summoned to give emergency evidence to the panel  to

  • justify the lack of a debate on CETA before it was scheduled for agreement and provisional application at last week’s Council and European Council;
  • set out the Government’s intended approach to facilitating public and parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals;
  • explain its implications for UK trade deals, both while a Member of the EU and after Brexit.

During the grilling Liam Fox said that he overrode parliamentary scrutiny on CETA in order to support it in Brussels and apologised for that, but said that it was necessary so that it didn’t appear that the UK was blocking the trade deal and potentially jeopardizing potential trade deals with the EU and Canada after Brexit. Geraint Davies MP accused Fox of ignoring two separate requests by parliament, the first made 12 months ago, to have a debate on this issue.

While Fox said in the cross-examination that UK parliament would eventually be able to scrutinize the trade deal, critics have argued that parts of the deal that come under ‘provisional implementation’ would still come into force regardless of national parliamentary scrutiny.

Nick Dearden, the director of Global Justice Now which has campaigned against trade deals like CETA said:

“The fact that this country has now agreed to the majority of CETA, without a single debate today on this far-reaching agreement, is a disgrace. The government has had two years since CETA negotiations concluded – and five years while it was being negotiated – to organise a full debate in parliament. It has failed to do this, because parliament scrutiny has never been seen a priority in trade deals.

“Once we leave the EU, we have even less scrutiny over trade deals than we currently do in the EU. It is imperative that our ability to sign up to trade deal is democratised.

“It’s a positive thing that the corporate court system will not be implemented provisionally, and a victory for those who have been fighting against this toxic trade deal. But CETA is damaging to democracy, public services and standards across the board. As a result of scrutiny by other parliaments, we still hope to stop CETA, but the British government has utterly failed to meet basic democratic standards.”    

The controversial trade deal between Canada and the EU, CETA, was expected to be signed by the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau at a summit in Brussels on Thursday, but the deal has been thrown into doubt following opposition from a regional parliament in Belgium.

 

Photo by Chatham House