Let me say at the outset that the Trade Bill is a continuity Bill, and it cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements with countries such as the U.S. Rather, the Trade Bill is designed to enable us to continue to trade with countries that we trade with through the EU at present, from South Africa to South Korea. It does not establish trade agreements with any country we do not already trade with.
Unfortunately therefore, what we saw this week was yet another recent example of a political stunt by the opposition parties intended to whip up an impassioned response. It is becoming a pattern now when a new Bill comes before the House, opposition parties table pointless and unnecessary amendments solely designed to scaremonger and create headlines. Not only is this highly misleading, it is also a waste of parliamentary time.
I set out below the position on the three issues relating to the Trade Bill constituents have contacted me most about.
The Government has repeatedly and resolutely ruled out the NHS being involved in any future trade deal. The 2019 Conservative Party manifesto was similarly clear – the NHS is not on the table in any trade deal, nor will the price of drugs be, nor will the Government ever accept changes to the NHS being free at the point of need. In addition, through our existing trade relationships the NHS is already protected by specific carve outs, exceptions and reservations.
Like many of my Conservative colleagues, I have only ever used the NHS myself, value it greatly and would not support any moves to privatise it. There was about as much need to add an amendment to the Trade Bill to ‘protect our NHS from being sold to the U.S.’ as there would have been to add one protecting our schools from being sold to the U.S. – the allegations to the contrary are nonsense.
Rigorous checks and balances on the Government’s power to negotiate and ratify new agreements already exist, including through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. 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. Moreover, regular updates are provided to Parliament on the progress of negotiations.
As with the NHS, the Government has repeatedly made it clear the UK’s high animal welfare, environmental, food safety and food import standards will not be compromised.
The EU Withdrawal Act will transfer all existing EU food safety provisions onto the UK statute book. This includes current import requirements, which for example ban the use of artificial growth hormones in domestic and imported products, and stipulate that no products besides potable water are approved to decontaminate poultry carcases. Only a vote in parliament could allow items like chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-treated beef to be allowed into the UK as they are currently prohibited.
You may also be aware of the recent announcement of the establishment of a Trade and Agriculture Commission, which will have representatives from retailers, farming unions, consumer, hospitality and environmental bodies – to advise on trade policies and welfare standards, amongst other areas.
In the coming months and years there are going to be lots of stunts by the opposition along the lines we have seen in recent weeks – the NHS testing vote was a similar one recently – which are designed to suggest myself and my colleagues are against things we are not against. The clue is often in the fact that these allegations are commonly spread on social media but not generally by the national media, who realise the game that is being played!