The government’s Trade Bill sets out how trade agreements will be dealt with after Brexit. I believe it has serious consequences for our democracy and our public services. I have joined campaigners, such as Trade Movement Justice and War On Want, in opposing the legislation.
I am deeply concerned that the Trade Bill gives no role for Parliament to review or oversee trade agreements. The trend in recent years, all around the world, has been towards giving Parliament more of a role in supervising trade agreements. This is because there is a growing acknowledgment that trade agreements have a far-reaching effect on policymaking and our economy, and that Parliament deserves to be able to scrutinise these agreements. The Bill contradicts that trend towards legislative oversight. As a result, many are concerned that the Bill makes it more likely that trade agreements will be signed without full public debate or transparency.
As you note, the Bill also gives no protections to our NHS in future trade deals. The approach of trade agreements is, in general, to extend “market access” to other countries. The NHS could in principle be subject to “market access” – meaning that privatisation of our health service is encouraged as part of “access” to the healthcare “market”. That is why it is so important that the Bill should safeguard our NHS and public services in any future agreements.
On Tuesday 17th November, in a Westminster Hall Debate I explained the importance of protecting the NHS in future trade deals. The threat posed to our health care system is clear for all to see. US officials have repeatedly stated that they regard the NHS as being on the table, and specifically want to ensure that the big US healthcare and drug companies can compete fairly to provide medical services, sell drugs and access NHS patient data. As you also note, the Bill does not protect food standards, meaning that US imports may be allowed to undermine the UK’s high standards of safety and welfare.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has pointed out that the Trade Bill makes no mention of a role for unions in negotiations and scrutiny of continuity agreements − providing no representation for trade unions on the Trade Remedies Authority and makes no commitment that UK trade deals will enforce respect for core International Labour Organisation conventions.
Ahead of the Trade Bill’s Remaining Stages in the House of Commons on the 20th July 2020, a broad group of MPs supported amendments which if successful, would have brought in powers for parliament to amend and ratify trade deals before they are passed, as well as provisions for impact assessments of trade deals, greater transparency, and consultation with the public, civil society and devolved administrations.
- I voted for New Clause 4 that laid out a requirement for parliamentary approval of trade agreements. The clause fell with 263 votes in favour and 326 against.
- I voted for New Clause 11 that would have meant that agricultural goods under a free trade agreement may be imported into the UK if the standards to which those goods were produced were as high as, or higher than, current standards. The clause fell with 251 votes in favour and 337 against.
- I voted for New Clause 17 which aimed to protect the NHS and publicly funded health and care services in other parts of the UK from any form of control from outside the UK. The clause fell with 251 votes in favour and 340 against.
As a result of those amendments falling, I voted against the Bill at Third Reading, but it passed with 335 votes in favour and 243 votes against. Nevertheless, I will continue to pursue the issues at stake whenever possible within Parliament and beyond.