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Jonathan Djanogly tables Trade Bill amendment to give Parliament more scrutiny on new free trade agreements

20th July 2020

Jonathan Djanogly tables an amendment to the Trade Bill which would require the Government seek Parliamentary approval of free trade agreement negotiating objectives before starting negotiations

Mr Djanogly

I speak to the new clauses tabled in my name, and those of others, concerning the scrutiny of free trade agreements. Simply put, today the House must address the question of whether, post Brexit, the UK will have less scrutiny of free trade agreements than ​we had before Brexit. That is the current Government proposal, which I suggest flies in the face of the claim that we leave the EU to take back control. The Government have split FTAs into two categories. First, and in the Bill, are all trade agreements that the EU signed with third countries before Brexit, which the Government wish to roll over to become agreements with the UK. Secondly, and not in the Bill, there are FTAs with any other countries, such as the US.

New clause 4 suggests a new scrutiny process for all FTAs. It will still be the Executive that negotiate FTAs, but Parliament would get a yes/no vote on the negotiating objectives and, importantly, on the final draft agreement, as happens in the US and Japan. Not only has such a provision not ended up in the Bill, but the Government’s position has seemingly reverted to us having less scrutiny than we had as a member of the EU. For the past 40 years, the EU has negotiated our trade deals, and as part of the EU scrutiny process, a yes/no vote would be taken by the EU Parliament on the draft FTA, prior to signature.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con)

Does my hon. Friend welcome the commitment from our Government on welfare and the environment, and all the conditions in the Bill? Does he find it somewhat confusing that the Government will not accept new clause 4? Surely scrutiny is fine, because they are going to do exactly what they said they will do.

Mr Djanogly

I absolutely agree. In January 2018, on Second Reading of the 2017-19 Bill, the then Secretary of State stood up and said that he would be looking for a new approval process and take soundings on that, but that has simply not happened. As things stand, there is no longer a parliamentary veto, and no formal scrutiny committee has yet been established, despite US negotiations having started.

The important point of a parliamentary veto is not that it is often used, but rather, as seen in other Parliaments, that it encourages the Executive to seek consensus on their negotiating mandate, and keeps legislators in touch during negotiations through regular discourse and discussion. A wise Executive will naturally wish to avoid an unnecessary bust-up just before signing an FTA. Of course, that is where it all went wrong with the TTIP negotiations between the US and the EU, because the US Congress and the EU Parliament were disclosing information to their respective elected representatives that was not provided to UK parliamentarians.

Richard Fuller

My hon. Friend is mentioning very large trade deals. Does he mean that the crux of this oversight is really required with those big trade deals, such as those with the US, China, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Mr Djanogly

New clause 4 does deal with all trade deals, but obviously the amount of scrutiny would be proportionate.

7.45 pm

As a result of the disclosures, and with the inevitable leaks, the whole debate surrounding thousands of lines of deal negotiations on TTIP was reduced to accusations ​of selling the NHS and Brits being forced to eat American chlorinated chicken. I totally take the point of my hon. Friend the Member for Witney (Robert Courts) that that was a false accusation. One might have thought that the UK Government had learned their lesson from that TTIP experience.

The Bill needs to provide a statutory framework that encourages the Government to take early-stage consultation and ongoing soundings through the course of FTA negotiations, in order that business, digital, farming, environmental and international development representatives, and other citizens, feel that they are being listened to, with similar rights to their counterparts in the country with which we are negotiating. Sadly, that is not currently the Government’s position.

The Minister constantly suggests that the CRAG process, allowing a short delay mechanism before ratification, is adequate. This is the same CRAG process that was implemented by Labour in 2010 at a time when the UK had the EU parliamentary veto. By the way, it is also the same process that was described in 2019 by the Lords Constitution Committee as “anachronistic and inadequate.”

The Minister suggests that the Trade Select Committee could be utilised to provide scrutiny for proposed new FTAs, a plan that I totally support. Let us assume that the Trade Development Department, and therefore its Committee, will survive a rumoured merger with the Foreign Office. Even so, and despite negotiations with the US and Japan having already started, no such detailed arrangements with the International Trade Committee have yet been agreed. We know that from an on-the-record letter sent from the Chair of the Committee to the Secretary of State on 18 June. If the position has changed, the Minister should take this opportunity to put that on the record.

I am not suggesting that MPs should be able to impede Government negotiations on FTAs. Nor am I saying that MPs should be able to amend draft FTAs. However, proper scrutiny means that we need legislation that provides for Parliament to approve FTAs on a yes or no basis before they are signed, which is why, without having received any Government offer to redress the issue, I shall ask that new clause 4 is voted on this evening.

I have many amendments and not very much time, but I shall get in what I can. Amendment 1 questions whether the time has come, or actually came at the start of this year, to draw a line under the 20 potential roll-over agreements not yet activated. The last roll-over signed was with Kosovo, just before Brexit, and since then it has become clear that most potential roll-over countries wish to see what we do with the EU first, such as Canada.

Japan has offered a quick deal, but that will not be a roll-over deal, as it appears that we are being offered something less than the EU’s deal with Japan. However, under this legislation the Japan deal will still be treated as a roll-over for scrutiny purposes. That somewhat undermines the Government’s main contention to date that a light scrutiny regime for roll-overs is appropriate as the deal has already been scrutinised by the EU Parliament. I do not just mean Japan. The clause 2 powers may have been suitable before Brexit, when the Bill was drafted in 2017, but I suggest that they should now be looked at again.



Hansard Society Blog: Why MPs should back the Djanogly amendments to the Trade Bill on parliamentary scrutiny of trade agreements

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