Lords put brakes on post-Brexit trade plans with embarrassing Government defeat

Posted On: 
21st January 2019

The House of Lords today inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Government as it stalled progress on ministers' post-Brexit trade plans.

Labour leader in the Lords, Baroness Smith, tabled the amendment today
Credit: 
Parliament TV

Peers voted by 243 to 208 to shelve the Trade Bill amid concerns ministers have refused to provide enough detail over its proposed future arrangements.

Among their complaints is that the Government has failed to make guarantees on food safety and animal welfare in its hoped-for trading regime.

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The defeat also means preparations to move to World Trade Organisation terms in the event of a no-deal Brexit are impossible, according to Cabinet minister Liam Fox.

The motion passed today will hold up the Report Stage of the bill, which had been set for 25 February, until a white paper or other detailed proposals on trade have been published.

It was tabled by Labour leader in the Lords Angela Smith, who told peers: “I am aware that the Government is consulting, but no further legislation has been introduced - not a White Paper, or even a Green Paper, and time is running out.

“It is not unreasonable that, before we complete our consideration of this Bill, we should have more information about, and proposals on, such an important policy issue."

She added: “We will be unable to fulfil our obligation of scrutinising this Bill effectively without further information on how the government intends to provide proper accountability and scrutiny of current and future trade agreements.”

Ministers have failed to put more flesh on the “skeleton” of the bill for an eye-watering 15 months.

Lords want the Government to lay out how future trade agreements will be agreed and scrutinised, and how some 40 existing trade deals the UK enjoys as part of the EU will roll over after Brexit.

International Trade Secretary Dr Fox said last month that without the legislation the UK would be unable to sign up to the General Procurement Agreement of the WTO, thought of by Brexiteers as a route to a no-deal future.

“Certainly, it wouldn’t be possible to have the UK membership of the GPA without the legislation of the trade bill going through,” he said.

A Department for International Trade spokesperson said: "We are disappointed that the Lords have voted to hold up the Bill at this crucial time.

"We’ve always been clear that we are committed to a role for Parliament and the Devolved Administrations in scrutinising future Free Trade Agreements, and the Government will now consider how to address the motion laid to enable Report stage to move ahead. 

"The Trade Bill will progress through its Committee stage as planned."