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We all want new trade deals – but MPs must be given a say

We all want new trade deals – but MPs must be given a say

"I want new trade deals, but we need proper scrutiny," writes Neil Parish

3 min read

The UK is engaged in a raft of trade negotiations, with everything from financial services to food standards on the table. Yet MPs are given next to no say. This must change.

The Trade Bill returns to the Commons today. After nearly half a century of EU membership, the UK will have an independent trade policy.

Much has been said about taking back control. Outside the EU, whether it is the Common Agriculture Policy, Common Fisheries Policy, or the Common External Tariff, the UK will no longer take part. Our Government will decide, not the EU Commission.

But what of our Parliament, from which the Government derives its authority? Do our parliamentarians not want a say on the trade deals the Government negotiates? And what of the devolved administrations too? Through the Trade Bill, we need to get on and legislate for a sensible and robust statutory framework.

As members of the EU, our British MEPs had a say on trade deals. I should know. I was an MEP for South West England from 1999 to 2009. The EU scrutiny process involves a vote by the EU Parliament on any draft FTA, prior to its signature. Now that the UK is taking back control of trade policy, MPs should have the same.

Along with several other sensible amendments to the Trade Bill, I have put my name to New Clause 4. It seeks the ‘parliamentary approval of trade agreements’. It has cross-party support, guaranteeing consultation for the devolved administrations and a ratification process through both Houses of Parliament. It’s standard procedure in countries like Denmark and Australia. My hope is the Government will make these changes themselves. 

So, why is this so important? The UK is engaged in a raft of trade negotiations, with everything from financial services to food standards on the table. I want new trade deals, but we need proper scrutiny. Trade deals can be good and bad.

The US administration has already made clear it wants the UK to lower its food and animal welfare standards to allow the export of products currently banned in the UK. To the great credit of our Government, they have quickly set up a new Trade and Agriculture Commission, led by Tim Smith. Its stated aim is to secure opportunities for UK farmers, while ensuring the sector remains competitive and that animal welfare and environmental standards in food production are not undermined. Count me in.

But my argument on the Trade Bill is not really about whether individual issues such as food standards, environmental regulations, or animal welfare are good or bad things in themselves. It’s about consultation, scrutiny and democracy in the process of agreeing new trade deals.  

We need businesses and citizens to feel they are being listened to with similar rights to their counterparts in the country with whom we are negotiating. And we need MPs to have an equal say to our counterparts too. 

My argument today is clear. The US Senate can actually amend trade agreements. The EU Parliament has a vote. MPs, under current plans, will get almost no say at all - and far less than our counterparts. It isn’t right and we need to fix it.

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