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Committee Chair: Government 'must stop dodging scrutiny' of trade deals

28 March 2024

The Business and Trade Committee Chair, Liam Byrne, has warned the Government it must stop dodging scrutiny of flagship trade deals. The warning follows publication of the Government’s response to the Committee’s report on UK accession to the 11-country Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

The cross-party committee’s report called on the Government to allow a debate and vote in the Commons during the brief statutory period when the House has the power under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act to delay ratification of the agreement. MPs on the Committee argued that joining CPTPP raises contentious issues that the Commons must be allowed to debate.

However, the Government failed to allow a debate. In its response, it claims parliamentarians have already had the chance to debate CPTPP accession. However, Committee Chair Liam Byrne observed that the Commons has not had the opportunity to debate all 30 chapters of CPTPP, along with the numerous side documents regarding UK accession.

The MPs noted that Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch had distanced herself from her own officials’ figures on the economic benefits of joining CPTPP. The Committee recommended that her Department conduct a new assessment of the gains from doing so, but the response says this will not be done. Also, the Government does not say what it will do to involve an independent body in assessing the impact of trade agreements – despite the minister having told the Committee she wanted to avoid “us marking our own homework”.

Chair's comment

Committee Chair Liam Byrne said:

“This is not no longer merely an era of change. This is a change of era as we shift from a world of free trade to new world of trusted trade where new questions of economic security are at the top of the agenda, alongside old questions of economic growth. This emerging world is full of new dilemmas and trade-offs as now weigh the prizes of trade growth against the potential price of new risks to our security. That is why MPs must be allowed to debate all those issues in the round and come to a balanced overall judgment.”

With CPTPP, MPs have been denied this opportunity – at the same time the Government has apparently cast aside its own analysis of the treaty’s benefits. So, should we just believe it’s right for the UK because the Government told us so?”

We can only conclude that Ministers are dodging full and proper scrutiny. Ministers claim they could not find the time but Parliament is sitting for the shortest sessions in years. I’m afraid the whole episode is conclusive proof that the way Parliament scrutinise trade treaties is no longer fit for purpose in this new age.” 

Further information

Image: Parliamentary copyright