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Government continues to swerve demands for effective trade deal scrutiny in response to Committee

26 January 2023

The International Trade Committee today publishes the Government’s response to its report on the Parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals.

In the report, the cross-party Committee demonstrated that the current mechanisms for scrutiny are not fit for purpose, and called on the Government to conduct a full review of how it engages with Parliament and Select Committees before, during and after trade negotiations.

The MPs also urged the Government to ensure that the Committee can always publish its own verdict on trade deals before any Parliamentary debate is scheduled, in order to inform MPs’ decision-making.

In response, the Government moves in the Committee’s direction, suggesting it would look to extend the statutory 21 day scrutiny period if a Parliamentary debate cannot take place in the existing timeframe. However, it does not commit to such a debate being on a substantive motion, which would enable MPs to vote against a trade deal if they felt it was not up to scratch.

The Government also continues to swerve the Committee’s demand for a single trade strategy, setting out what the UK wants to achieve from its negotiations, and how new deals would support broader Government policies.

Chair's comment

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

“It’s clear that the existing mechanisms for Parliament to scrutinise trade deals are not fit for the twenty first century. As a Committee, we will continue to review alternatives to the current scrutiny framework and bang the drum for more effective oversight of trade agreements.

“It’s also disappointing to hear the Government has no intention of publishing a unified trade strategy. Without this, it’s difficult to conclude anything other than that the UK is negotiating piecemeal trade deals with no overarching vision or goal.”

Conclusions and recommendations:

Select Committees

  • The Government should undertake a full review of how it informs and engages with others before, during and after trade negotiations. We specifically ask the Government to consider how it involves Parliament and its committees. (Paragraph 8)

Trade strategy

  • We reiterate our call for the Government to produce a single strategy document that sets out what it wants to achieve with its negotiations and how the agreements it is negotiating will collectively support this. (Paragraph 15)

Parliamentary arrangements

  • The provisions for parliamentary scrutiny of treaties set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 (CRaG) are not fit to scrutinise future trade agreements. (Paragraph 32)
  • The Government must continue to work with us to coordinate when it triggers CRaG for future trade deals, to ensure the House of Commons can consider our report before it debates the agreement within the CRaG period. (Paragraph 67)
  • The Government must strengthen its commitment to granting a post-negotiation parliamentary debate, ensuring that one is granted if requested in a timely manner. (Paragraph 72)
  • The House of Commons must have the opportunity to not only debate a trade deal, but also to vote on a substantive motion during the period in which it retains its power to delay ratification, if it considers this appropriate. (Paragraph 78)

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