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International Trade Committee: Mechanisms for trade deal scrutiny not fit for purpose

The International Trade Committee today demonstrates that the mechanisms for Parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals are not fit for purpose.

In a new report, the Committee outlines that the Government’s commitments to support scrutiny do not go far enough, and need reviewing and extending. It calls on the Government to agree to scheduling a Parliamentary debate on all new trade agreements. MPs must be given the opportunity to use their ability to delay ratification of a deal if they consider this the most appropriate course of action.

The cross-party Committee of MPs calls for the Government to ensure it can always publish its verdict on the trade deal under discussion before any debate is scheduled, within the timeframe when it can delay the deal if necessary, in order to inform the decision making of MPs.

The Committee asks the Government to undertake a full review of how it engages with Parliament and Select Committees before, during and after trade negotiations. It recommends the Department for International Trade allow time for the consideration and debate of its negotiation objectives before discussions begin, giving MPs the opportunity to influence them.

The MPs reiterate their demand for a single trade strategy which sets out what the Government wants to achieve from its negotiations and how new deals will support this.

The Committee expresses concern that, by dropping human rights provisions from UK trade agreements, the Government may have relinquished an important lever for promoting so-called ‘British values’ abroad, and it is unclear of the benefits of taking this approach. The MPs ask the Government to clarify how it will address related issues, such as human rights, labour rights and the environment.

The Committee also repeats its recommendation that the Government should produce a document which demonstrates how new trade deals are affecting the UK’s economy, at the national, regional and sectoral level, and update this following the ratification of each new agreement.

While the Government has made some recent positive steps to support additional scrutiny, the Committee seeks to continue this movement in order to secure better scrutiny of trade agreements.

Chair's comment

International Trade Committee Chair, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, said:

“Since leaving the European Union, the UK has negotiated two brand-new free trade deals. Despite warm words, the Government has swerved our scrutiny and deliberately prevented MPs from being given a proper say on these vitally important agreements. It’s clear that the current approach is not fit for purpose. That’s why the Government must commit to full and proper scrutiny of trade agreements and accept our recommendations as a matter of urgency.”

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