19 January 2021
Jonathan Djanogly backs calls for trade deals to be approved by Parliament before being signed

Jonathan Djanogly supports an amendment that would mean trade deals must be approved by Parliament before being signed by the Government as is the case in the US, EU and Japan.

Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon)

The Bill was intended to provide a limited scrutiny process for EU trade deals that we wished to roll over for the UK to operate post Brexit. That objective has now largely been achieved, which means that if this Bill is to be of any meaningful scrutiny benefit it must now address scrutiny of future trade deals, including with roll-over countries, and any proposed with countries such as the US, India and China. If we fail to do that, we will have to fall back on a pre-EU, 1920s-based system of allowing limited recourse to debates, whereby a trade deal can be delayed but not stopped and then only on ratification but not before signature. This system, now contained in the CRaG Act, is inadequate for modern needs and requires reform towards a system of pre-signature parliamentary approval, as is used by our trading counterparts such as the US, the EU and Japan.

Lords amendment 1, from Lord Purvis, based on my Report stage new clause 4, is the proposed way of proceeding. It gives Parliament a vote on deals before and after negotiations, and will require the Government to report on any changes to food, health, environment, human rights and equalities standards. It provides for consultation with devolved authorities, but it specifically retains the Government’s prerogative powers to commence, conduct and conclude trade negotiations. Lords amendment 1 has the support of all Opposition parties and many Conservative colleagues in both Houses. It has the support of the NFU, the British Medical Association, many environmental, human rights, food standards and data use groups, business concerns, the CBI and so on.

Against that, Ministers complain about loss of prerogative power, but the existing CRaG Act itself restricts such powers. Even if Ministers were to stick with CRaG, they are the only people saying that CRaG does not need reform. Lord Lansley has provided in Lords amendment 5 that if a relevant Committee asks for a ratification debate, the Government must make time for that to happen. Even that mild, common-sense proposal is rebuffed by Ministers. Ministers suggest that a pre-signature vote would make them look less decisive and weaken their hand, but I would suggest that the opposite is actually the case. In the US, negotiations are often strengthened by the Executive suggesting that Congress simply will not accept such and such a proposal.

As things stand, unbelievably, the UK shall have less legislative scrutiny of trade deals than when we were a member of the European Union. Surely that is not what taking back control was all about. The power of approval that was given to MEPs now needs to come back here to Parliament, not to be forgotten about by Ministers. Having proper scrutiny votes will go towards establishing the UK as a modern, democratic, confident international trading nation. We should be embracing that by supporting the Purvis amendment and by voting no to the Government motion to disagree to it.



Earlier intervention during the Minister’s introduction to the debate

Mr Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon) (Con)

My right hon. Friend said that the amendment would go too far. In the European Parliament the power existed for MEPs to give consent to trade Bills. Now that power has come back to this country, is he suggesting that this should not go to MPs but should go to the Executive? I think that is what he is suggesting.

Greg Hands

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I know that he has taken a long-standing interest, during the passage of this Bill and its predecessor, in these questions, and I will make two points. First, it would be inappropriate to compare this Westminster-style of democracy with the European Parliament and the European Commission. Secondly, all the trade agreements in scope within the continuity provisions of the Bill have already been scrutinised in this House. These arrangements were set out in a written ministerial statement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade on 7 December. The enhanced arrangements that we have set out are entirely appropriate for a Westminster-style democracy such as ourselves; they are at least as strong as, and in some cases are stronger than, those in comparable systems, such as those in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.