Government defeats 'genocide amendment' to Trade Bill arguing it 'eroded' parliamentary sovereignty

Wed 20 Jan 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

trade bill

The government won a narrow vote in the House of Commons last night (19 January) to remove a so-called ‘genocide amendment’ from the Trade Bill.

The amendment would have given the British High Court the ability to revoke trade deals signed by the government with countries it rules to have committed genocide.

Ministers said the amendment would have ‘eroded’ parliamentary sovereignty if passed.

China hawks

Tory rebels supported the amendment in part due to their scepticism over the possibility of the government negotiating a deal with China.

Many MPs have been openly critical of China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority in the days leading up to the vote. Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith tweeted:

“Today’s rebellion shows the government can’t ignore calls to bring genocide cases before UK courts. We’ll continue to work on this amendment, considering all points MPs made today.”

The amendment was tabled by crossbench peer Lord Alton and would have allowed British courts to decide on issues currently in the jurisdiction of international courts.

The government narrowly defeated the amendment by 318 to 308.


Trade minister Greg Hands argued the amendment would have been an “unprecedented and unacceptable erosion” of parliament’s sovereignty.

However, he said he would work with the Tory rebels to find a compromise on the issue, expected to resurface when the Trade Bill returns to the House of Lords.

Legal framework

The Trade Bill provides the legal framework for the UK’s newly independent trade policy and sets parameters for the UK’s negotiations with other countries outside the EU.

However, its passage into law has been a drawn-out process with MPs having tabled multiple amendments in attempts to limit government’s ability to agree trade deals without thorough parliamentary scrutiny.

In July an amendment to guarantee MPs a final vote on all trade agreements was rejected by a majority of 63.


Conor Burns, the Trade Policy minister, told The Telegraph in March: “The Trade Bill is an important element of the UK’s independent trade policy now we have left the EU.

“This Bill contains key measures that will provide continuity and certainty for businesses and consumers across the UK as we reach the end of the transition period.”