Liam Fox accused of “burying” debate on controversial EU trade deal

Liam Fox accused of “burying” debate on controversial EU trade deal

Date: 6 February 2017

  • Committee discussion to take place today at same time as Brexit Bill debate

A debate on the controversial free trade deal between Canada and the EU (CETA) will take place today in a dramatically reduced form in a committee, despite assurances from the Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox, that there would be a “full debate on the Floor of the House.” Fox has been accused by a member of the European Scrutiny Committee, MP Geraint Davies, of going against the wishes of parliament in having, “confined discussions to a committee room as the media is distracted by Brexit.”

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is awaiting a vote in the European Parliament on 15 February. Opponents of the trade have argued that much like its sister agreement TTIP, CETA would hand a raft of new powers over to multinational corporations, and would pose a threat to public services, as well as environmental and labour protections.

The European Scrutiny Committee has stated that the deal, “raises complex legal and policy issues for the UK, both while it is a Member of the EU and after its withdrawal from the EU, which the Government has failed to adequately address.”

In October 2016, Liam Fox was summoned to appear before the European Scrutiny Committee to  justify why there had been no debate on the trade deal in the UK parliament before it had been scheduled for agreement at the European Council. While giving evidence, Liam Fox said:

“I am sorry that the timescales meant that it was not possible to have a debate before decisions needed to be made on CETA in the Council.  This was down to the parliamentary calendar and the timescale set for us.  However, I therefore reinforce my commitment to the Committee today to hold such a debate.  I am very happy to have that debate on the Floor of the House.  Our officials are already working with business managers to identify a date, most likely, we understand, in November, but the Committee will understand that that is for the business managers.”

On Wednesday, under questioning from the International Trade Committee, Fox admitted that the full debate would not be taking place, and instead would be relegated to a committee meeting on Monday afternoon at the same time that a debate on the government’s EU Withdrawl Bill is due to take place.

Geraint Davies, Labour MP for Swansea West said:

“The Investment Court System in CETA is unnecessary and empowers corporate trade interests to fine and intimidate Governments for introducing public policies which protect the environment, food safety, public health and social rights. The Government should ensure a full debate so Parliament can decide on CETA as has already been demanded by Parliament and the European Scrutiny Committee. Instead Cunning Liam Fox has confined discussions to a committee room as the media is distracted by Brexit. CETA is a threat to human rights, democracy and the rule of law and we will be demanding that the debate is uncovered from the Fox-hole in which it is buried. Liam Fox had no parliamentary authority to sign the CETA Provisional Agreement  and his behaviour shows we must all fight to protect our democracy from secretly signed trade deals.”

Nick Dearden, director of campaign group Global Justice Now said:

“Over three months ago Liam Fox was criticised by a parliamentary committee over the lack of debate on this controversial and far-reaching trade deal between the EU and Canada. And Liam Fox was at pains to assure the committee that  this debate would take place. It’s disgraceful and disingenuous that Fox is now trying to bypass a thorough parliamentary process that he had committed to in order to avoid more rigorous scrutiny of a trade deal that would threaten public services, labour rights and consumer standards in the UK. As a prominent advocate of Brexit, Liam Fox has repeatedly extolled the virtues of our parliamentary sovereignty, but here he is thrusting us into an EU trade deal that would dramatically curtail our law makers from legislating to the benefit of ordinary people in the UK.”

98 MPs have signed an Early Day Motion that calls for the International Secretary of State for Trade to “ensure Parliament has the fullest opportunity to debate, vote on and amend trade and investment deals.”

Critics have argued that:

  • CETA contains a ‘Regulatory Cooperation’ chapter which threatens to hand multinationals a greater role in formulating laws, and sparking a race to the bottom in standards for important areas like food safety and environmental regulation.

  • CETA will make it more difficult for governments to regulate the banking sector to prevent the sort of financial crises experienced  in 2008

  • CETA negotiations have already laid the basis for tar sands oil – one of the world’s most environmentally destructive fossil fuels – to flow into Europe. If CETA comes into effect, the import and production of this toxic fuel will increase, devastating the environment.

  • CETA’s locks in privatisation and deregulation at current levels  for a wide range of services.

Read more in Global Justice Now’s briefing on CETA.

Illustration by Jacob V Joyce.