Liam Fox reneges on promise to hold parliamentary debate on controversial trade deal

Liam Fox reneges on promise to hold parliamentary debate on controversial trade deal

Date: 1 February 2017

A full parliamentary debate on a controversial trade deal between the EU and Canada will now not be happening, despite assurances in October from Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox that it would.

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.

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.”

This morning, under questioning from Angus MacNeil MP while appearing before the International Trade Committee, Liam Fox said that business managers had not been able to find time for a debate on floor of the house before the European Parliamentary vote and debate on 15 February so there will be “a debate in committee on Monday”. It appears the debate will be held by a ‘delegated legislation committee’, yet to be formulated. [Full transcript can be found in the notes]

Nick Dearden, the director of 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.”

Critics have argued that:

  • CETA contains a ‘Regulatory Cooperation’ chapter which threatens to hand multinationals a greater role in the formulation of making 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.
Questions were asked by Angus MacNeil MP Chair of the International Trade Committee, transcript below:

AM: CETA – There was a debate promised, I understand the European Parliament will have a debate on 15 Feb in Strasbourg, I assume the UK Parliament won’t be having a debate before then, when do you plan having a debate on CETA?
LF: There will be a debate in committee on Monday
AM: What about on the floor of the House?
LF: Business managers were unable to find a time on the floor of the House, which would be ahead of the, not least because of our recess which is coming, European vote, so it was decided to hold a debate in committee next week.
AM: Before the end of February will anything come to the floor of the House?
LF: It will be done in committee.


Photo: Chatham House