Democracy and transparency in the UK trade bill

READING TIME 15 mins
Democracy and transparency in the UK trade bill

In the June 2017 Queen’s Speech, the UK government announced its intention to introduce a trade bill. The aim of the trade bill is to provide an “international trading framework for the UK outside of the European Union”.

The Trade Justice Movement, as part of a broad coalition, is campaigning to ensure this trade bill is fit for the 21st century - establishing a democratic and transparent process for the negotiation and ratification of new trade agreements.

Democracy and transparency in trade matters to all of us

There are two facts that everyone should know about international trade post-Brexit.

The first is that modern trade agreements have a huge impact – for good and for bad – on almost every sector of the economy, from agriculture to finance to energy to public services.  

The second is that under current rules, the UK government has unchecked powers to negotiate and ratify trade agreements. Incredibly, MPs are not guaranteed a vote on whether to approve or reject trade deals, and have no powers to scrutinise ongoing negotiations and propose amendments. The public and civil society have no right of input.

The power this concentrates in the hands of government ministers is beyond that in any other democracy. Current rules provide far less democratic oversight than equivalent processes in the US and the EU, which are themselves criticised for lacking transparency and democratic accountability.

It should come as no surprise that the current rules are outdated and threadbare. They derive from a constitutional convention established almost a century ago, and the UK has not had to negotiate a trade agreement since the early 1970s.       

What is TJM calling for?

We believe that we need to fix this now. To ensure that UK trade policy is modern and democratically accountable post-Brexit, the new trade bill must establish:

1. The right of parliament to set a thorough mandate to govern each trade negotiation, with a remit for the devolved administrations

2. The right of the public to be consulted as part of setting that mandate

3. Full transparency in negotiations

4. The right of parliament to amend and to reject trade deals, with full debates and scrutiny guaranteed and a remit for the devolved administrations

5. The right of parliament to review trade deals and withdraw from them in a timely manner

Support our call

The question is not whether we get a trade bill. The UK will need a trade bill post-Brexit. The question is whether we get a good trade bill or a bad trade bill. That is why we need to work together to ensure that from the outset, those drafting the bill understand that establishing a democratic and transparent process for trade is non-negotiable.

If your organization would like to support this effort, or for more information, please write to admin@tjm.org.uk