Government defeated in Lords over meaningful vote on future trade deals
Defeat is 'a very heavy blow for Liam Fox'
Trade justice campaigners have welcomed the government's defeat over Amendment 12 to the Trade Bill in the House of Lords. A cross-party amendment to give parliament the power to hold the government to account for its trade policy was passed by 215 votes to 168.
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now said:
“Tonight Liam Fox has been dealt a very heavy blow. For 2 years now he has insisted that parliament has virtually no role in scrutinising trade deals or in debating and voting on them. He has been stone deaf to the demands of civil society, businesses, academics and politicians from across the political spectrum, who all realise that modern trade deals are a very big deal, and affect everyone in the country. Tonight the Lords voted to give parliament these vital powers. We are delighted and we hope very much that MPs will agree to this amendment when it returns to the Commons.”
Jean Blaylock, senior campaigner on trade at War on Want said:
"Today’s vote finally provides the basic democratic framework for trade that should be a minimum standard in a modern democracy. Parliament needs a meaningful vote over trade deals at the start and end of negotiations because trade deals can cut through rules and standards in many areas of life, like food, healthcare, climate, worker’s rights.
"Thousands of citizens have been telling Parliament this for over a year. Business groups, unions, consumers groups and campaigners have been unusually united in saying it. Hundreds of MPs pushed for it, and today’s vote delivers it. It is essential that this democratic framework be defended if the government seeks to overturn it in later stages. We cannot achieve trade that works for people and planet unless the people and their representatives in Parliament have a say."
The amendment was jointly tabled by Lord Stevenson (Labour), Lord Purvis (Lib Dem) and Lord Hannay (crossbench) and requires the Government to give Parliament a vote on all new trade agreements after Brexit. This would allow MPs to block or amend controversial trade agreements, such as one with the US. The amendment also requires Parliament to approve a mandate for new trade agreements before negotiations begin.
The Government’s focus in the Trade Bill  is on replacing existing trade deals which the UK has through EU membership, and on establishing key institutions for an independent trade policy after Brexit. Business, unions, consumer groups and campaigners have jointly highlighted the gap this leaves in setting out a modern governance model for other future trade deals. The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, has already expressed his intention to begin negotiations with new trading partners including the US and Australia.
The current process for agreeing trade deals has been heavily criticised by civil society organisations for failing to give Parliament a meaningful say over the content and ratification of deals, and lacking transparency during negotiations. Many of these deals, such as one with the US, have been criticised as they could lead to cutting food and health standards, impact on public services and include controversial ISDS mechanisms.
- Amendment 12: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2017-2019/0127/18127-R-I.pdf
- Trade Bill: https://services.parliament.uk/bills/2017-19/trade.html
- A trade governance model that works for everyone, https://www.tjm.org.uk/documents/briefings/2018-06-28-A-Trade-Model-that-Works-for-Everyone-Final-02.pdf
- See https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/feb/21/liam-fox-post-brexit-trade-plan-go-unscrutinised