Liam Fox ‘acting like 18th century monarch’ as plans for trade deals unveiled

Thursday, 28 February, 2019
  • UK trade deals will be far less democratic than current EU arrangements, trade secretary announces
  • ‘Massive democratic black hole’ over future trade deals with Trump and others, say campaigners

The Department for International Trade has today set out a woeful set of proposals for the scrutiny of trade deals after Brexit, campaign group Global Justice Now has said.

It follows a written statement by the secretary of state, Liam Fox, designed to allow the government’s Trade Bill to proceed in the House of Lords (1).

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now said:

“Liam Fox’s plans for signing post-Brexit trade deals with countries like the USA are an insult to parliament and the public. They give our MPs significantly less power over trade deals than our MEPs currently enjoy over European trade deals. They don’t allow parliament the ability to properly scrutinise, guide, or stop trade deals. Far from befitting a minister in a democratic country, the powers which Fox’s plans would give him would be more appropriate for a monarch 300 years ago.

“There is a massive democratic black hole at the heart of Brexit. This is a problem for all of us, because trade deals today can affect our food standards, our public services, our ability to regulate big finance and much besides.  We cannot allow Liam Fox to trade away our democratic standards behind closed doors, with MPs having no ability to stop him.”

Fox was forced to produce the plans by the House of Lords, which refused last month to move his Trade Bill forward until an adequate process was set out for detailing how parliament could oversee post-Brexit trade policy (2).

But Fox has ignored clear recommendations from parliament’s International Trade Committee to establish a world class democratic trade policy (3).

In fact, he has put almost nothing new in place to replace the very significant parliamentary scrutiny currently undertaken by MEPs in London.    

Under these proposals:

  • MPs would not be able to vote on the government’s trade objectives and would be given no powers to change a government’s negotiating strategy.
  • Trade deals would be negotiated under royal prerogative, and MPs would not be able to stop a trade deal, or even have the right to debate a trade deal. Even where the government deigned to give MPs a debate, the trade deal would be implemented before this debate had taken place.
  • MPs would have no right to see negotiating texts, though such texts might be granted to a special committee if the government agreed.
  • The rights given to devolved governments would amount to a regular discussion, with no further powers or rights.
  • No further legislation will be passed to give parliament a proper role in holding the government to account for trade policy.

The Trade Bill is tabled to return to the House of Lords for Report Stage on 6 March.

Notes

  1. Processes for making free trade agreements after the United Kingdom has left the European Union, Department for International Trade, 28 February 2019
  2. Lords put brakes on post-Brexit trade plans with embarrassing Government defeat, 21 January 2019
  3. MPs urge Commons veto over post-Brexit trade agreements, 28 December 2018, UK trade policy transparency and scrutiny, 28 December 2018

Photo: King George II

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