The Trade Bill is another power grab away from parliament, comparable with the EU Withdrawal Bill
Campaigners at Global Justice Now have urged MPs to take control of post-Brexit trade policy and uphold democracy ahead of a parliamentary debate on the Trade Bill on Tuesday 9 January.
The Bill currently gives MPs no power to scrutinise, guide, amend or stop trade deals being signed, and fails to mandate public information, consultation or impact assessments. As a result, Labour, SNP, Green and Plaid Cymru are supporting amendments to deny a second reading to the Bill.
A petition signed by 265,000 people has been handed to trade secretary Liam Fox demanding public and parliamentary involvement, while Early Day Motion 128 containing the same demands is the third most popular among MPs out of seven hundred.
A coalition of social justice groups, trade unions and environmental organisations including Trade Justice Movement, Global Justice Now, Traidcraft and Unison is calling for a more democratic system of agreeing trade deals. Charities and campaigners have long expressed concerns that poor trade deals could have a devastating impact on the environment, stripping away life-saving regulations.
Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: “The Trade Bill is another power grab away from parliament, comparable with the EU Withdrawal Bill.
"We’re abolishing the scrutiny of MEPs but rather than handing it to MPs, Liam Fox is taking it for himself. He’s flying around the world meeting tyrannical regimes and proposing outlandish ideas like joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and yet MPs are in the dark.”
“Trade deals affect an enormous range of public policy – from public services to food standards to intellectual property rules. It’s astonishing that Brexit was supposed to be about taking back control, yet our MEPs will have more say over a final UK-EU trade deal than our MPs in Westminster if this Trade Bill comes to pass.”
The government claims the Trade Bill is primarily about translating EU external trade deals into UK trade deals. However, campaigners have responded by arguing that the bill is still about creating new trade deals, some of which have yet to receive ratification in the EU even in their original form. Moreover, as this is the only system there is for agreeing trade deals, it will therefore set a precedent for all post-Brexit trade deals.
Giving people control
Barry Gardiner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary for International Trade, said: “The Labour Party will be fighting every step of the way to ensure the Trade Bill provides for proper parliamentary scrutiny of our future trade deals. We totally reject the idea that this government can bring back the power to negotiate trade agreements from Europe and then bypass Parliament.”
Hannah Bardell MP, Trade Spokesperson for the SNP said: “Trade deals nowadays not only touch on tariffs, as important as they can be to a national economy, but also regulations, public services and more. That is why nations and regions need a say in these trade deals - setting guidelines, scrutinising, and being able to stop them if they don't work for everyone. Scotland won't let the Westminster government threaten our devolved powers through the Trade Bill.”
Caroline Lucas MP, Green Party co-leader, said: “As the Government ploughs ahead with Brexit we face the very real possibility of a trade policy devoid of proper democratic accountability. We know the risks associated with bad deals – a race to the bottom on regulations, companies suing democratically elected governments and the outsourcing of jobs.
"If the Government is serious about giving people control over their future then it's crucial that future trade deals aren't just stitched up in backrooms by ministers, but instead are debated and voted upon by MPs before being passed."
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. He tweets at @EcoMontague.