Trade Bill (Clause 17) - 23rd July 2020

The House of Commons discussed the Remaining Stages of the Trade Bill on Monday. From there it goes onto the Lords for more scrutiny.

More than 50 amendments were tabled of which one was “New Clause 17”, tabled by the Green MP Caroline Lucas.

The Trade Bill is a continuity Bill, and it cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries.

What the Trade Bill is designed to do is to enable the free trade agreements that the EU had signed with other countries before Brexit to be transitioned in to UK law. As was the case while we were a member of the EU, the NHS is protected by specific carve-outs, exceptions and reservations already in these trade agreements. Twenty continuity agreements have already been signed, retaining all of these protections for the NHS.

Liz Truss as International Trade Secretary, the Prime Minister and lots of other members of the Government have said on multiple occasions that the NHS is not on the table in any future trade agreements which the UK is involved in. It never has been, it never will be.

That being the case, New Clause 17 was unnecessary in legislative terms and added nothing to existing protections. It was a political stunt, nothing else.

There have been a lot of dishonest claims from political activists claiming that this was a vote to not protect the NHS or even to sell it off. That is a flat-out lie, made worse by the fact that the people telling it know that.

We should be absolutely clear that there is a process of parliamentary scrutiny in place to double up the checks and balances on Government and ratify any new trade agreements. In 2010 Parliament passed the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 or CRAG as it is known and Parliament retains, through the CRAG process, the right to block any treaty from being ratified.

In addition, trade agreements cannot by themselves make changes to our domestic law. Any legislative changes required as a result of trade agreements would be subject to the separate scrutiny and approval of Parliament in the usual ways, similar to those in place in Canada but further than the arrangements in countries such as Australia and New Zealand, where Parliament cannot directly block ratification of a trade treaty.

In summary, the NHS is protected from trade agreements, it is not on the table for discussion anyway, and if by some bizarre loophole it ended up there, Parliament could block it and almost certainly would.