Trade Bill Speculation

A number of constituents have contacted me about reports surrounding voting on the Trade Bill which took place in the House of Commons on Monday 20 July. I would like to take this opportunity to clarify this matter. 

I do appreciate your strength of feeling about this issue and I agree with you about the importance of effective Parliamentary scrutiny. However laudable their aims may be, I do not believe that the provisions outlined in the Clauses and amendments you refer to and there are several reasons for this. 
 
At its core, the Trade Bill is a continuity Bill. It cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the US. Instead it can only be used to transition the free trade agreements that the UK has been party to through EU membership. All these agreements have already been subject to scrutiny as underlying EU agreements, through the European Scrutiny Committee process or equivalent.

In particular, the NHS is already protected by specific carve outs, exceptions and reservations in these trade agreements. I know that my Ministerial colleagues have no intention of lowering standards in transitioned trade agreements – the very purpose of these agreements is to replicate as close as possible the effects of existing commitments in EU agreements. Indeed, I can reassure you that none of the 20 continuity agreements signed have resulted in standards being lowered.

In future trade agreements the Government has made a clear and absolute commitment that the NHS will not be on the table. Indeed, I note Ministers have made clear they will ensure rigorous protections are included for the NHS in all trade agreements to which the UK is party, whether transitioned from an EU context or as a result of future negotiations.

Public consultations have and will continue to be held prior to negotiations to inform the Government's approach. Ministers have also published their negotiating objectives prior to the start of trade talks and held open briefings for MPs and Peers, for example at the launch of talks with the US and Japan.

Regular updates are provided to Parliament on the progress of negotiations too and I know that my Ministerial colleagues at the Department for International Trade will also be engaging closely with the International Trade Committee and the Lords International Agreements Committee as negotiations progress.

The Government has also made repeatedly clear that where necessary it will bring forward primary legislation to implement new free trade agreements, which will be debated and scrutinised by Parliament in the usual way.

Overall, I believe this approach strikes an appropriate balance. It respects the UK constitution, ensuring that the Government can negotiate in the best interests of the UK, while making sure that Parliament has the information it needs to effectively scrutinise and lend its expertise to trade policy.

Moreover, trade agreements cannot by themselves make changes to our domestic law. Any legislative changes required as a result of trade agreements would be subject to the separate scrutiny and approval of Parliament in the usual ways.

I hope this has provides a measure of clarity and reassurance.