The government is coming under pressure from the chemicals industry to relax the rules on how chemical safety information is managed, according to an article on the Green Alliance blog. Post-Brexit the UK no longer has access to chemical safety information held under EU REACH regulations (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) and the chemicals industry is arguing that it should not be required to provide the same robust information as was required under the EU regulations. As the HSE builds UK REACH, the Government must be held to the Conservative Party’s manifesto pledge for the UK to have the most ambitious environmental programme anywhere on earth!
Parliament has again voted to tie its own hands on all future trade deals. In a vote on the Trade Bill, 9th February, MPs voted against an amendment that would have guaranteed Parliament a vote on trade deals.
The Department for International Trade has stated
“Any deal the UK Government agrees will be fair and balanced and in the best interests of the whole of the UK. As we will in all negotiations, we remain committed to upholding our high environmental, labour, product and food safety, and animal welfare standards in our trade agreement with [for example] Australia, as well as protecting the National Health Service (NHS).”
By rejecting this and other amendments, which would have enshrined the above commitments into law for all trade deals, it appears that even with an 80-seat majority, the government doesn’t trust its own MPs.
The vote represents the continuing slide from parliamentary democracy into government by cabal.
 Negotiations on the UK’s Future Trading Relationship with Australia: Update, 14 Dec 2020
Following last week’s article in the Royston Crow reporting on our campaign to oppose the UK-US trade deal, this week our letter (see below) was published expressing no confidence in government assurances on protecting the NHS or maintaining food, animal welfare and environmental standards.
The closing paragraph of a news update published by the Department for International Trade, 14/12/2020, reads:-
“Any deal the UK Government agrees will be fair and balanced and in the best interests of the whole of the UK. As we will in all negotiations, we remain committed to upholding our high environmental, labour, product and food safety, and animal welfare standards in our trade agreement with Australia, as well as protecting the National Health Service (NHS).”
That being so, why did the government not support amendments to the Trade Bill which would have upheld those high standards and protected the NHS?
Robert Jenrick’s unwillingness to overturn Cumbia County Councils’ decision to permit the development of Woodhouse Colliery speaks volumes for the government’s commitment to the Climate Crisis and maintaining high environmental standards.
In a post-Brexit review, Kwasi Kwarteng, Business Secretary was all set to trash current employment protections but made a well-judged, hasty U-turn, presumably as a result of the outcry from Labour and the unions.
The above demonstrates both the need and the value of continuing to hold the government’s feet to fire over assurances like the one above and of doubling down on our campaign to safeguard standards and the NHS in any trade deal but particularly, the future UK-US Free Trade Agreement (FTA).
Our letter below as published in the Royston Crow, 28th January 2021
US trade deal threat
Your article on campaigners opposed to a future trade deal with the United States, prompted some interesting responses from local MPs. The government defeated amendments to the Trade Bill which would have allayed many of the fears expressed in our open letter, fears so glibly dismissed by Sir Oliver Heald and Bim Afolami. Negotiations with the US are already far advanced, so it is appropriate to ask why the government has opposed moves to:
● guarantee MPs proper scrutiny of, and a vote on trade deals
● protect the NHS and food, animal welfare and environmental standards
● prevent trade deals with countries engaged in serious human rights violations?
It is absolutely clear that the UK public do not want the NHS on the table, nor do they want standards of food, animal welfare and the environment to be traded away. On the other hand, US negotiators expect unfettered access to UK markets in both health and agriculture but by the government’s own assessment, a trade deal with the US might lead to only 0.07% – 0.16% economic growth by the middle of the next decade. The UK already trades extensively with the US and the additional benefits of a trade deal are far from obvious.
Given this government’s track record of hurried U-turns, missteps and broken manifesto pledges, we have no confidence in their assurances. In reality Parliament does not have a veto nor do MPs have the opportunity to properly scrutinise future trade deals.
We remain convinced that a US trade deal risks further privatisation of the NHS and a significant degradation of food, animal welfare and environmental standards.
Global Justice Now Herts & Beds
Dear Jim Thakoordin,
Thank you for contacting me about the Trade Bill and a future trade deal with US.
The government’s Trade Bill sets out how trade agreements will be dealt with after Brexit. I believe it has serious consequences for our democracy and our public services. I have joined campaigners, such as Trade Movement Justice and War On Want, in opposing the legislation.
I am deeply concerned that the Trade Bill gives no role for Parliament to review or oversee trade agreements. The trend in recent years, all around the world, has been towards giving Parliament more of a role in supervising trade agreements. This is because there is a growing acknowledgment that trade agreements have a far-reaching effect on policymaking and our economy, and that Parliament deserves to be able to scrutinise these agreements. The Bill contradicts that trend towards legislative oversight. As a result, many are concerned that the Bill makes it more likely that trade agreements will be signed without full public debate or transparency.
As you note, the Bill also gives no protections to our NHS in future trade deals. The approach of trade agreements is, in general, to extend “market access” to other countries. The NHS could in principle be subject to “market access” – meaning that privatisation of our health service is encouraged as part of “access” to the healthcare “market”. That is why it is so important that the Bill should safeguard our NHS and public services in any future agreements.
On Tuesday 17th November, in a Westminster Hall Debate I explained the importance of protecting the NHS in future trade deals. The threat posed to our health care system is clear for all to see. US officials have repeatedly stated that they regard the NHS as being on the table, and specifically want to ensure that the big US healthcare and drug companies can compete fairly to provide medical services, sell drugs and access NHS patient data. As you also note, the Bill does not protect food standards, meaning that US imports may be allowed to undermine the UK’s high standards of safety and welfare.
The Trades Union Congress (TUC) has pointed out that the Trade Bill makes no mention of a role for unions in negotiations and scrutiny of continuity agreements − providing no representation for trade unions on the Trade Remedies Authority and makes no commitment that UK trade deals will enforce respect for core International Labour Organisation conventions.
Ahead of the Trade Bill’s Remaining Stages in the House of Commons on the 20th July 2020, a broad group of MPs supported amendments which if successful, would have brought in powers for parliament to amend and ratify trade deals before they are passed, as well as provisions for impact assessments of trade deals, greater transparency, and consultation with the public, civil society and devolved administrations.
- I voted for New Clause 4 that laid out a requirement for parliamentary approval of trade agreements. The clause fell with 263 votes in favour and 326 against.
- I voted for New Clause 11 that would have meant that agricultural goods under a free trade agreement may be imported into the UK if the standards to which those goods were produced were as high as, or higher than, current standards. The clause fell with 251 votes in favour and 337 against.
- I voted for New Clause 17 which aimed to protect the NHS and publicly funded health and care services in other parts of the UK from any form of control from outside the UK. The clause fell with 251 votes in favour and 340 against.
As a result of those amendments falling, I voted against the Bill at Third Reading, but it passed with 335 votes in favour and 243 votes against. Nevertheless, I will continue to pursue the issues at stake whenever possible within Parliament and beyond.
Member of Parliament for Luton South