Boris Johnson's government spends first day fighting to keep trade talks secret

Friday, 13 December, 2019

Global Justice Now returned to court today to challenge Boris Johnson’s government to release details of secret trade talks held with at least 21 countries including the USA, China, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Hundreds of pages of almost entirely blacked out papers were released to the campaigners earlier in the year following a Freedom of Information request. The documents from US-UK trade talks became a flashpoint in the general election campaign after redacted versions featured in one of the TV debates, and leaked versions were subsequently released by the Labour Party. But papers relating to talks with a range of other countries, including India, South Korea and the Gulf Cooperation Council, remain undisclosed.

The case at the Information Tribunal began yesterday, when it heard evidence from Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden, Dr Liam Campling, Professor of International Business and Development at Queen Mary University of London, and Dr Sylvia de Mars, Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Newcastle.

Today John Alty, a senior civil servant at the Department for International Trade, gave evidence for the government. The case then went into ‘closed’ sessions to discuss government evidence which was itself blacked out in the public court papers. 

Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now said:
“Now Boris Johnson has a majority government he will ramp up these trade talks with the US and a range of other countries. This presents a clear danger to our NHS and other public services, to our food standards and to any attempt to halt climate change – not to mention the damage these trade deals could do to the countries we’re trading with.

“US papers have been leaked but there are many other talks with Saudi Arabia, China, Turkey and more. We must know what Johnson is trading away. The public urgently needs to see these papers so we can hold the government to account for what it is negotiating in our name. The fact that we can’t even see all of the government’s evidence in this case shows just how opposed they are to open and accountable government. But we will keep fighting to ensure these trade talks see the light of day.”

The case was adjourned until 10 February when the Department for International Trade will be invited to give further evidence, as will former government trade official David Hennig.

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