Countdown to Brexit: 85 days – Parliament must be allowed to control post-Brexit trade deals
A report published by the International Trade Committee proposes the roles that Parliament, business, civil society, the devolved administrations and local government should play in post-Brexit trade policy.
The UK is about to begin negotiating its own trade agreements for the first time in 40 years. Committee Chair, Angus Brendan MacNeil MP says that these agreements: “have the potential to affect every part of every UK citizen’s life – from the quality of the food we eat to the money in our pocket.”
However, the Committee conclusion is that current Government plans for the transparency and scrutiny of future trade negotiations are: “characteristically vague - and attempt to dress poor planning up as pragmatism. We have seen what happens when the public and parliament are deliberately kept in the dark over trade negotiations. With so much to gain or lose, everyone has the right be heard.”
Having looked at the successes and failures from past trade negotiations around the globe, the Committee is demanding a meaningful role for Parliament before, during and after future trade agreements are struck.
MacNeil: “If the proper processes and protections are not put in place from the outset, the Government may fail to realise the UK-wide post-Brexit benefits it has gone to such lengths to promote.”
The Committee demands:
transparency in relation to negotiating documents; and
greater representation of business, civil society, devolved administration, and local government interests in the formulation of trade policy.
The report identifies four key principles that must underpin the UK’s post-Brexit trade policy:
whilst trade negotiations are the prerogative of Government, Parliament must have a meaningful role throughout. The ability for MPs to represent the views of those that stand to be affected – consumers, businesses and workers – will lead to fairer outcomes for all.
trade policy must be open and inclusive and maximise benefit throughout the UK. When formulating policy, a wide range of stakeholder groups from across all nations must be represented.
the Government must operate from a presumption of transparency rather than secrecy. Whilst the Committee accepts that certain documents must remain confidential, it must justify its decisions to withhold information.
processes must be formalised without delay and - where appropriate - be placed on a statutory footing. All parties affected by trade policy outcomes must understand how the process works - and how and when they can contribute.
MacNeill: “The Government should allow Parliament, devolved government, business and civil society to contribute positively to the development of a negotiating mandate. It should guarantee Parliament a vote on the ratification of trade deals and give our Committee the tools we need to oversee and scrutinise negotiations as they progress. It should ensure that devolved government has a statutory and meaningful role and expand its means of consultation with business and civil society.
Trade, trust and transparency
The report highlights transparency commitments made by the European Union and argues that these should form a baseline for the UK Government.
The role of Parliament in trade policy
Parliament should be involved throughout the process.
It should be allowed to express its concerns or objections at the outset - before mandates are set and negotiations commence.
During the negotiation process, regular updates from Ministers and civil servants - along with relevant documents - to be provided to the International Trade Committee which will have oversight of negotiations.
The role of devolved administrations
The Government should establish a statutory inter-governmental international trade committee, comprised of representatives from each of the devolved administrations.
Such a committee should be consulted on the final agreement text prior to the debate on ratification. The committee should be supported in its work by a Strategic Trade Advisory Group (STAG) - which Government would engage with throughout the negotiating process.
Engaging business, civil society and local government
Learning lessons from the EU’s TTIP negotiations, consultation mechanisms - to ensure business and civil society viewpoints - are reflected in trade policy.
Government should be required - via statute - to hold regular consultation meetings with businesses, organisations and individuals. These meetings should be attended by negotiators and officials from the Department for International Trade. They are to provide an opportunity for interested parties to give their views on the mandate and scope of future agreements.
Meetings should be supplemented by comprehensive engagement with the STAG to ensure that it fully represents the range of businesses, civil society, trade union and consumer groups from across the UK. STAG is being a particularly valuable contributor to the development of economic and non-economic impact assessments relating to trade negotiations.
The report highlights the extent to which local government and the individuals it serves are directly affected by trade policy - and calls on the Government to outline proposals for their involvement in trade policy development and scrutiny.