Brexit vote: Boris Johnson’s new bill scraps powers for MPs to scrutinise future trade deals

‘Trade deal process will now be conducted in secret,’ warns Labour MP

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Thursday 19 December 2019 19:05
The Queen sets out Government’s priorities including Brexit, NHS, knife crime and immigration

Boris Johnson has scrapped powers for MPs to scrutinise future trade deals after Brexit amid the UK could be forced to accept lower standards as a price for a trade agreement with the US.

The new Brexit deal, which was published on Thursday, has been stripped of a clause which would have given MPs oversight of negotiations for trade agreements once the UK leaves the EU next month.

MPs will vote on the new EU withdrawal agreement bill on Friday, which has been redrafted by Downing Street to rule out extending the transition period beyond December 2020.

The new legal deadline increases the risk of a no-deal Brexit, as it leaves the prime minister only 11 months to negotiate a trade deal with Brussels or risk crashing out without a deal.

Mr Johnson’s new Brexit bill also drops Theresa May’s commitments to maintaining workers rights, with the government due to table a separate employment bill in the New Year.

The move sparked concerns that parliament had been shut out of crucial next stage of the Brexit process, when the UK would be free to strike its own trade deals for the first time in decades.

Lisa Nandy, who is regarded as a possible future Labour leader, sounded the alarm over how the new Brexit plan had been altered for the worse.

“The trade deal process will now be conducted in secret, with the EU parliament having more power and scrutiny than British MPs,” she warned.

“What happened to taking back control?”

Trade is likely to become the next big political battleground as Brexiteers will be gunning for a lucrative US trade deal once the UK leaves the EU at the end of January.

But the US has indicated it will have aggressive demands, such as the right to sell chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-pumped beef and to ramp up the cost of medicines.

Angus MacNeil, former chair of the Commons International Trade Committee, raised concerns about parliament’s lack of scrutiny on such agreements – and warned the prime minister against kicking the can down the road.

The SNP MP told The Independent: “Before the election parliament had Boris Johnson in a cage but now he has parliament in a cage.

“He may be giving himself an easier ride in parliament but this will just create problems down the line. These problems won’t go away, you will be left with flawed legislation.”

David Lawrence, senior political adviser at the Trade Justice Movement, said the UK lags far behind other countries when it comes to scrutiny of trade agreements.

“Post-Brexit trade deals have the potential to severely impact on all sorts of public policy areas, including environmental regulation, health services, food standards and workers’ rights,” he said.

“It is therefore essential that parliament is able to provide scrutiny and democratic accountability.

“Currently MPs have no guaranteed vote on trade agreements, such as one with the US. It is very disappointing that this is set to continue in the new EU withdrawal agreement bill, which could have been an opportunity to develop a democratic framework for trade policy.

“Boris Johnson is undermining democracy by denying MPs a vote on our most important future trading relationship.”

The withdrawal agreement bill, which implements the PM’s Brexit deal, received its first reading in the Commons on Thursday afternoon.

It will be debated at second reading on Friday before the Commons breaks for Christmas.

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