Julian pushes Ministers on strengthening parliamentary scrutiny of trade agreements
January 14, 2021
This morning at Questions to the Secretary of State for International Trade in the House of Commons, Julian pressed the government to commit to ensuring Parliament has the final say when new trade deals are ratified.
The regaining of full control over trade from the EU is one of the largest changes of the Brexit process, and a Trade Bill is currently going through Parliament in order to give government the necessary tools to run an independent trade policy.
While any changes to British law as a result of deals must pass through Parliament as usual, and Parliament technically has the power to block ratification of deals if MPs want to, there is currently no clear requirement for Parliament to hold a ‘yes/no’ vote on trade agreements, and government can agree to ratify an agreement independently of MPs.
Given the substantial interest of constituents, and the potential economic impact of future trade deals, Julian has joined with a number of other MPs in pushing hard for stronger powers for Parliament to decide on signing trade deals, voting against the government in July 2020 in support of an amendment to the Trade Bill requiring both Houses of Parliament to approve draft negotiating objectives and the text of trade agreements.
In the Commons, Julian asked:
“Given the imminent return of the amended Trade Bill to this chamber, and the regaining of control over trade negotiations from Brussels after 46 years, does the Minister agree that ratification of new trade agreements should rest with the elected representatives in this House, and not government bureaucrats?”
Trade Minister Greg Hands replied: “Since we left the EU a year ago, of course no bureaucrats will ratify our trade agreements. The ratification of future FTAs [free trade agreements] will only take place once this Parliament has had the opportunity to scrutinise the detail of any trade deal, and any necessary implementing legislation.
We believe that our system of parliamentary scrutiny compares favourably with other Westminster-style democracies, like Canada, Australia and New Zealand.”
Afterwards, Julian said: “While I appreciate the sincerity of Ministers in providing extensive opportunities for scrutiny, if regaining control of trade policy is to mean anything, it surely must mean giving MPs clearer powers to approve or reject a new trade agreement.
Given I did not receive an indication the government is likely to amend the Trade Bill to this end, I will now look to support moves to insert such changes into the Bill text when it returns from the Lords to the Commons next week.
I think the public both want to maximise the global economic opportunities for British exports outside the EU, and maintain our high product standards, and crucially want decisions on these matters to rest firmly with their elected representatives.”