‘Woeful lack of democracy’ as Liam Fox launches US trade negotiations

Wednesday, 20 February, 2019

•    MPs to debate post-Brexit trade deal with Trump on Thursday
•    Could be the only chance for Parliament to have a say before deals are put in place

MPs are set to debate four post-Brexit trade deals on Thursday, in a move likely to launch formal trade negotiations with the USA and Britain’s application to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (1). But campaigners have warned MPs that the debate shows the almost complete lack of power which they will have to guide, scrutinise or stop trade deals after Brexit.

The debate follows a Government consultation on the deals which provoked what is believed to be the biggest public response in history, with 600,000 individuals and organisations expressing concerns about the impact the deal could have on food standards, the NHS and the introduction of ‘corporate court’ systems which could lead to the British government getting sued in secret tribunals by some of the biggest companies on the planet.

Campaigners are warning that the government has failed to put into practice any framework for replacing the current scrutiny and accountability mechanisms which exist in the EU for dealing with trade deals. In effect, this hands the government very substantial powers to make sweeping social and economic changes outside of normal parliamentary processes.(2) The Trump administration has already made clear that any trade deal with the US would need to substantially alter British food standards and increase medicine prices.

Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now said:
“This debate simply highlights the woeful lack of democracy governing Britain’s post-Brexit trade policy. Following a pretty meaningless public consultation, which nonetheless showed how concerned we all are about the government’s trade plans, the Secretary of State is expecting to simply start negotiating these deals in six weeks’ time. Neither parliament nor the public are allowed to stop Liam Fox negotiating away our food standards or our public services. This must change before it’s too late.”

David Lawrence of the Trade Justice Movement said:
“Despite his previous promise, that MPs will be given “the opportunity to consider… the Government’s approach to negotiations and the potential implications of any agreements”, Liam Fox has yet again demonstrated that he does not take Parliamentary oversight of trade deals seriously. Trade deals with places like the US could have massive impacts on social rights, the environment, food and health standards in the UK. The current process for agreeing trade agreements give MPs very little say. Thursday’s debate could be the only chance for MPs to debate these deals, and does not offer any assurances that MPs will be able to influence negotiations, access texts or get a meaningful vote on the deals.”

Jean Blaylock of War on Want said:
“We know the Secretary of State has a lot riding on doing a deal with the US but we don’t know what he is prepared to offer to get it. Thursday’s debate may be the only chance to find out. But more than that, it may be the only chance for parliament to have any say before an eventual deal is implemented. Trade officials can start negotiations, do the deal behind closed doors, finish and sign it, and parliament isn’t even guaranteed a vote on the final deal.”

1. The four are deals with the US, Australia and New Zealand and joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The latter, now known formally as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, incorporates 11 Pacific nations, and remains a far reaching trade deal with potentially serious impacts for regulations, public service and medicine prices: http://www.globaljustice.org.uk/resources/trans-pacific-powergrab

2. Campaigners are calling for a democratic framework including

  • Parliamentary approval of a mandate before negotiations start
  • Transparency during negotiations
  • Meaningful Parliamentary vote on the final deal
  • Broad ranging impact assessments looking at social, economic, environmental, gender, development and regional effects

Photo: British High Commission, New Delhi