Lords defeat government over Trade Bill
Date: 21 January 2019
Government must bring proposals for democratic process to agree post-Brexit trade deals before Trade Bill can reach next stage
The House of Lords has defeated the government on a procedural amendment on the Trade Bill this afternoon.
The motion introduced by Baroness Smith of Basildon, Shadow Leader of the House of Lords, demanded that the government bring back full proposals for a proper democratic process for agreeing trade deals, before the Lords moves forward to Report Stage on the Trade Bill.
The motion is a blow to the government, which has struggled to move its Trade Bill through parliament over the last 18 months.
Although the Trade Bill is focussed on agreeing so-called ‘rollover’ trade deals which the UK is part of via its EU membership, Lords expressed frustration this afternoon that we are now so close to Brexit day that we need processes for agreeing post-Brexit trade deals as a matter of urgency.
International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox has refused to give parliament the power to properly set mandates, scrutinise or even enjoy meaningful votes on these trade deals
In a series of damning statements, peers also criticised Liam Fox’s trade strategy, and his inability to agree the vast majority of ‘rollover’ deals which he has previously portrayed as easy to achieve.
Campaigners are calling for Post-Brexit trade deals to be brought under parliamentary control, and peers have submitted amendments (1) calling for:
- A meaningful vote on all trade deals
- Transparent negotiations with parliament able to exercise oversight of trade negotiations
- A debate and vote on mandates for trade deals
- An end to the toxic ‘corporate court’ system which allows big business to sue countries through clauses in trade deals
These amendments will still be discussed in the days ahead, but the Trade Bill can’t move forward in the process without a statement by the government to both houses of parliament
David Lawrence of Trade Justice Movement said:
“The Lords’ victory is one step towards democratic oversight of post-Brexit trade policy. The Government claims that Brexit is about giving control back to Parliament. But the Trade Bill in its current form does nothing to guarantee MPs a meaningful vote on post-Brexit trade deals. This is a big problem as it means MPs will struggle to stop controversial trade deals such as one with the US, which threatens to undermine our existing food and health standards. Lords should rally behind these amendments to the Trade Bill to secure democracy in post-Brexit trade policy.”
Jean Blaylock, of War on Want said:
“With mere weeks to go, Parliament has stepped up to demand clarity on trade deals because the government has failed to provide it. Secret trade talks are taking place behind closed doors, with the British public and MPs denied the right to know which countries they are talking to, where they’ve got to, or what the plans are. The need for basic democratic procedures to be put in place is clear. MEPs in Europe, and members of the US Congress get a vote on trade deals, so why shouldn’t MPs?”
Nick Dearden, of Global Justice Now said:
“We’re absolutely delighted that parliament has started to assert its power over this awful Bill. The government should never have introduced a Trade Bill that failed to give proper powers to parliament to scrutinise, debate and discuss Britain’s post-Brexit trade deals – given the vast changes that could be made to our food standards and public services in such deals. Clearly the government’s attempts to usurp parliamentary powers through the Brexit process is unwinding. We hope they will now bring back a proper process befitting a democratic country.”
Modern trade deals are so vast, that they can impinge on a government’s ability to set high food standards, protect public services like the NHS and implement decent environmental and workers rights standards. But currently, parliament has almost no role to play in overseeing trade policy – and cannot even stop trade deals coming into effect.
In particular, there is concern that trade talks with the US are already effectively taking place, and although the US is believed to be insisting on importing food produced to much lower standards post-Brexit, parliament has no means to challenge this agenda.
In addition, campaigners warn about the inclusion of a so-called ‘corporate courts’ (known formally as ISDS) in a future trade deal with the US, which would open up the UK governments to be sued, in secret, by US multinational corporations for infringing their ability to profit from the UK economy post-Brexit.
Campaigners are urging Lords to support a range of amendments which have been tabled by, among others, Lord Purvis of Tweed, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara and Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb.
For a full background briefing on the Trade Bill, see https://www.tjm.org.uk/documents/briefings/TJM_TradeBillConstitutionalImplications_2018_web.pdf