Last week in the Commons, MPs were voting on the Trade Bill – one of the vital pieces of legislation that the UK requires to have on the statute book once we leave the European Union. The purpose of the legislation was essentially to ‘transition’ the EU’s trade agreements to UK agreements. It covers only agreements with countries with which the EU has signed a trade agreement before exit day – it does not cover “new” trade agreements.
We had a lot of votes on Tuesday 17th July and I wanted to let you, my constituents, know what I voted for and what I voted against throughout the day.
The first vote of the day was New Clause 3 which would have ensured that all new free trade agreements were subject to scrutiny by Parliament. As someone who strongly believes in a parliamentary democracy and the role of parliament in holding the Government to account, this is something that I voted for. Unfortunately, the Conservative Government did not feel like they could support this principle and ultimately, we were unsuccessful in our aim.
Next up we were voting on Amendment 19. This would have required the Government, prior to ratification, to publish the text of each UK free trade agreement and open it to consultation with business, trade unions, the devolved administrations and other organisations. This is something that I supported, but again the Conservative Government did not.
The Labour Party had also tabled New Clause 4 which would have ensured that whenever UK Ministers wished to make any kind of regulations within an area that the Scottish Parliament was responsible for, they would require the consent of the Scottish Parliament. This was an amendment that was drafted to be entirely consistent with the devolution settlement and acknowledged that in certain circumstances (where the UK would fail to meet its international obligations), the UK Government could direct the devolved authority to act or not to act. It is important to stress that this is something that is contained within the Scotland Act 1998 (Section 28), and as the party of devolution, Labour is committed to the Scottish devolution settlement. Unfortunately, neither the Conservatives nor the SNP supported us in our efforts.
Labour also strongly believes that the Trade Remedies Authority (the body which settles disputes in trade agreements) is fully representative of wider society. We therefore tabled Amendment 80 that set out that the TRA must include representatives of key stakeholders that would be affected by trade agreements. I supported this Amendment but it was voted down by the Government.
New Clause 17 was an amendment tabled by the Conservative backbench MP, Dr Phillip Lee, which would have ensured that it was a negotiating objective for the UK Government to secure an international agreement through which the UK may continue to participate in the European medicines regulatory network and the European Medicines Agency. This was vital to ensure that UK patients continue to have access to high-quality, effective and safe pharmaceutical and medical products. Despite the Conservative Government opposing such an approach, there were enough Conservative MPs to vote with Labour to defeat the Government and this amendment passed, including with my support.
The final vote of the day was the ‘customs union’ amendment. This again had my support as it would make it a negotiating objective of the Government to establish a free trade area for goods between the UK and the EU. If they were unable to do so then they must secure an agreement with the EU that enables the UK to participate in a customs union when we leave the EU. Despite there being many Conservative members who voted with Labour on this, we lost out by just three votes.
I fully appreciate that these issues can at times be confusing, but thank you for taking the time to read this. I think it is important that my constituents know exactly how I voted in major pieces of legislation, and if you have any queries please do not hesitate to contact me.