As the first post-Brexit UK trade deals come into force, experts point to a worrying lack of scrutiny

Posted on June 01, 2023
Houses Of Parliament

The UK’s bilateral trade deals with Australia and New Zealand are set to come into force today. The deals cover many aspects of our everyday lives, including food standards, the NHS and environmental rules. However, experts argue that neither the public nor Parliament have been given enough of a say in the process of agreeing the deals. A new report UK trade policy: why scrutiny matters by the Trade Justice Movement, argues that there is a clear democratic deficit in the way the UK negotiates and ratifies trade deals.

“These are the UK’s first independent full free trade deals. The process of getting to this point has shown in no uncertain terms that the UK’s trade scrutiny processes are not fit for purpose. They are not inclusive, transparent or democratic. Parliament, the devolved administrations, civil society, and the public are marginalised and excluded throughout the development of new trade deals.” says Ruth Bergan, Director of the Trade Justice Movement.

The UK is now several years into the establishment of its post-Brexit independent trade policy. The first wholly new post-Brexit trade deals with Australia and New Zealand have been a crucial test of the processes by which trade deals are negotiated and ratified, made all the more important by the fact that the UK is also engaged in a raft of other trade negotiations around the world.

In Parliament, the Government has been accused of setting an “outrageous precedent” and of “disrespect” by the International Trade Committee, the body that was until it was disbanded just a few weeks ago, responsible for scrutinising UK trade, throughout the ratification of the UK-Australia FTA. Pledges to engage with trade deals have simply not been met.

Just as the first trade deals are implemented, the International Trade Committee has been disbanded, meaning that, at the time of writing, none of the MPs that had built their trade knowledge is now on the committee that will scrutinise the next wave of trade deals.

The Trade Justice Movement’s new report UK trade policy: why scrutiny matters details the limited opportunities that exist for Parliament, civil society, the devolved administrations and the public to engage in UK trade policy. It calls for a democratic and transparent procedure for the negotiation and ratification of trade deals.