On Tuesday, the Government’s Trade Bill returned to the House of Commons from the House of Lords for further consideration by MPs. The Bill started moving through Parliament 3 years ago and was originally supposed to provide the framework for the UK to trade after leaving the EU.

Some people might wonder why we need this Bill now – after all, didn’t we leave the EU on the 1st January? Haven’t most international trade deals now been finalised? Shouldn’t all the legislation be in place? These aren’t unreasonable questions – it’s been 4 years since the referendum, and over a year since a general election in which the Prime Minister promised us all an “oven ready” deal (you can read my thoughts on the deal here).

Despite the promises, the Government’s failure to reach a timely conclusion to EU negotiations – made worse by the Prime Ministers reckless tabling of illegal legislation – meant it was forced to rush through the technical legislation in a single day in December as a sticking plaster. As I said in the debate, it’s a scandal that after being given so much time, Ministers had to scramble at the eleventh hour to enact the bare bones legislation needed for the UK to function outside of Europe.

We should set our aspirations higher than the bare minimum – the Trade Bill is an opportunity to establish the core principles behind our trading policy for years to come. That should mean –

  • Protecting our NHS. We need to ensure that the NHS stays in public hands and that it’s off the table in any future trade deals.
  • Maintaining standards. Leaving the EU should not start a race to the bottom on our environmental, agricultural, food, and animal welfare standards.
  • Defending human rights. We should use our leverage as the sixth largest economy to ensure that all those we trade with are committed to human rights.
  • Scrutinising future deals. The current rules make it very difficult to effectively scrutinise trade deals. We need a more transparent process in which it’s easier for parliamentarians to see and vote on a deal.

At every opportunity, I have supported amendments to the Trade Bill which enshrine these principles. Shockingly, the Government has repeatedly voted them down.       

Yesterday was no exception. Righty dissatisfied with the Bill, the Lords returned cross-party amendments which would exclude NHS data from future trade deals, guarantee our existing standards, embed a commitment to human rights in our trade negotiations, and provide for great openness and accountability over how we ratify new deals. The Government opposed them all.

The Bill will now be sent back to the Lords and the process of “ping pong” between both Houses will begin. I’ll continue to follow the progress of the Bill and fight for an approach to trade that maintains a commitment to our standards, our public health service, and the principles of human rights, openness and transparency.   

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