Submission to the Trade Bill committee: Impact of the bill

Unlock Democracy submitted evidence to the Trade Bill committee over concerns relating the far-reaching democratic implications of proposals for post-Brexit trade and proposals in the bill

The trade deals entered into after Brexit will have a profound effect on the country for decades to come. In a parliamentary democracy like the UK, parliamentary sovereignty is a defining principle. A meaningful role for Parliament involves, as a basic democratic standard, the opportunity for Parliament to influence the substance of the government’s negotiating position, hold the negotiating parties to account during negotiations, and ratify final deals.

Overview of Unlock Democracy's key concerns

  • Unlock Democracy has identified three primary areas of concern with the Trade Bill, which are the democratic deficits in trade deal negotiation, scrutiny, and ratification.

  • It is a cause for concern that seemingly no mechanisms have been put in place to either assess the impact of proposed changes to existing deals, or subject these changes to parliamentary scrutiny and approval. Furthermore, it is unclear why the government is seeking extensive Henry VIII powers to make changes to these deals if the intention is simply to transpose them as they are.

  • Given that the Article 50 exit date is set for March 2019 and the Secretary of State for International Trade has made public his intentions to start signing deals as soon as possible after Brexit, it is a matter of urgency that the government bring forward its proposals for how trade is going to be conducted given their absence from this bill. This should include comprehensive reform of the way trade deals are negotiated and ratified so that Parliament is guaranteed a meaningful role throughout.

  • To date the current government has expressed a concerning attitude towards the involvement of parliament in setting negotiating objectives. This has most obviously been borne out in Brexit. Statutory changes are required to mandate a role for Parliament in setting negotiating objectives, scrutinising negotiations, and having a meaningful and binding vote on any final deal - including the opportunity to amend or reject, as well as a accept the deal.