I have been contacted by many constituents about the Trade Bill which was debated in the House of Commons on 20 July.

The Trade Bill gives the Government powers to implement agreements with countries that the UK had a trade agreement with as a member of the EU and provides powers to implement the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), an agreement between the EU and 19 countries to open public procurement markets to each other. In addition, it establishes a Trade Remedies Authority (TRA) to take measures to protect against unfair competition from other countries and gives HMRC the power to share information relating to trade.

The Government promised to establish a modern framework for international trade negotiations but the Trade Bill comes nowhere near providing this. I therefore supported several amendments to try and rectify its serious shortcomings and the lack of accountability.

I supported a new clause that aimed to protect the NHS and publicly funded health and care services from any form of control from outside the UK. I supported another new clause to require imports of agricultural goods to meet animal health and welfare, environmental, plant health, food safety and other standards that are at least as high as UK standards. I also supported an amendment to ensure that the Government must gain the consent of the devolved Governments to make regulations to implement trade agreements under the Trade Bill on issues that are devolved in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Finally, and most importantly, I supported a new clause to address some of the significant democratic deficit in the Trade Bill. Parliament should have both a voice and a vote when it comes to future trade deals. The Trade Bill denies them this. New clause 4 would have addressed this by providing elements of good scrutiny practice that a modern, confident, outward-looking country should want to adopt: scrutiny of, and a vote on, the negotiating mandate; assessment against domestic standards; consultation with the devolved Administrations; and a vote on the deal by both Houses of Parliament.

Unfortunately, all these amendments were voted down by Government MPs.

International trade is critical for the country as we leave the EU and seek to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. We will need effective legislation to do what the Bill sets out to do. However, I believe that the Bill represents a huge missed opportunity. That’s why I opposed the Trade Bill at Third Reading. It nevertheless passed and will now proceed to the House of Lords.

Hilary Benn
MP for Leeds Central

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