Throughout the Trade Bill’s progression through Parliament, various amendments have been proposed that purport to protect the NHS, maintain existing food production and animal welfare standards and require Parliamentary scrutiny of future trade agreements. Whilst considering these amendments and the way in which MPs have voted on them, it is important to view them in conjunction with the Bill itself, rather than in isolation.
The Trade Bill will assimilate existing EU trade deals into UK law ready for when the UK exits the transition period at the end of 2020. The Bill does not determine the Government’s future trade negotiating positions, nor can it be used to pre-determine the outcome of those negotiations. Any amendments that seek to do this are not relevant to the Bill, nor are they required thanks to considerable assurances provided by the Government about its negotiating position for future trade deals.
Protecting the NHS
With regard to amendments intended to protect the NHS in future trade deals, the Government has been very clear that, in any trade negotiations, the NHS will not be on the table, nor will the price the NHS pays for drugs or the services the NHS provides.
Decisions on how to run our public services are made by our Government and devolved administrations, elected by the people of this country, not by our trade partners.
Protecting the NHS forms a fundamental part of our negotiating strategy with other countries in future trade deals. Our detailed negotiating objectives for new free trade agreements include:
- Protecting the right to regulate public services, including in the NHS;
- On investment maintaining the right to regulate in the national interest and continue to protect the NHS;
- Ensuring patent provisions do not lead to increased medicines prices for the NHS;
- Making sure that Government Procurement maintains existing protections for NHS health services.
Maintaining existing safety and welfare standards
The Government has provided a clear commitment that future trade agreements will uphold our country’s high animal welfare, food safety, workers’ rights and environmental standards. We will not compromise our standards for the sake of a trade deal with other countries. Should our partners wish to sell us their products, they must accept that UK consumers expect very high standards and the Government will ensure this is respected.
On animal welfare, I am proud that our Government has made its commitments in this area clear. None of our animal welfare standards will be watered down in pursuit of any trade deals. Indeed, after leaving the EU, we can further strengthen our standards and put them on show to the international community on bodies such as the World Organisation for Animal Health, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species and others. This will enable us to promote improved animal welfare standards globally.
The Government are also committed to protecting our high environmental standards. Working with the public and industry bodies, we will ensure that future trade deals protect these standards and encourages investment in clean growth sectors, for example in smart energy systems, offshore wind, and crucially for our region, the manufacture of electric vehicles.
We are the first country to legislate on our ambition to reach net zero emissions and I am proud that our area is at the cutting edge of green technology, as the Prime Minister mentioned during his recent visit to the Dudley Borough.
Public and Parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals
There are already rigorous checks and balances on the Government’s power to negotiate and ratify trade deals. Some of these are included in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. This Act allows Parliament to scrutinise agreements for 21 sitting days, provides for a report on the agreement from the relevant Select Committee as well as the option for debates on the agreements and the power for the Commons to restart this 21 day period if it is not satisfied.
The Government has held public consultations prior to all trade negotiations and will continue to do so in the future. Negotiating objectives are published by ministers and there are ample opportunities for Members of Parliament and Peers to be involved in this process. Regular updates are provided to Parliament and the Department for International Trade will work closely with the International Trade Committee and the Lords International Agreements Committee as negotiations progress.
Where necessary, primary legislation, requiring votes, will be brought forward to implement new trade agreements. These will be debated and scrutinised like any other piece of legislation.
To conclude, I stood on a manifesto that set out clearly that the NHS is not on the table during trade negotiations, nor are our high standards and protections up for debate. There are some who have presented the amendments and the people who voted against them in a misleading fashion. No matter what they claim, none of these are on the table in future trade negotiations.
Leaving the European Union gives this country great opportunities to forge new partnerships across the globe. We will do this without compromising our public services, standards or protections. Indeed, I welcome the opportunity for us to strengthen them and promote even better standards with international partners.