International trade minister Ranil Jayawardena today (19 July) told MPs there won’t be a delay to the ratification of the UK’s trade deal with Australia, despite there having not yet been a parliamentary debate on the agreement.
He was responding to an urgent question in the House of Commons from Conservative MP Anthony Mangnal.
The Labour Party’s shadow trade secretary, Nick Thomas Symonds, accused the government of breaking its promise to offer MPs the chance to properly scrutinise the deal.
Jayawardena said that a debate could be held in the autumn following the summer recess, but said that there is a “balance to be struck” between speed and scrutiny.
Casalicchio tweeted that there are rumours in Westminster that the deal could be ratified before this debate.
Plenty of time
According to Politics.co.uk, the minister rejected claims that MPs haven’t been given enough time to assess the deal, saying there will have been “over six months” of scrutiny by the time the deal is debated.
The International Trade Committee has led calls for such a debate and has criticised its inability to scrutinise the deal properly.
Under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, parliament has a role in approving all treaties, including trade deals.
The government must present a treaty to parliament for 21 sitting days before ratification and provide an explanatory report – without either of these, a deal cannot take effect.
The 21 day period for the Australia agreement will expire on Wednesday according to Independent, before MPs have had a chance to fully scrutinise it.
Parliamentary committees are typically the bodies who scrutinise the agreements.
International trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan triggered the CRAG period for the Australia deal on 14 June but was only available to give evidence to the trade committee nearly halfway through the 21 day period.
The international trade committee could not publish its report on the deal until it had taken her evidence into account, however.
This prompted committee chair Angus MacNeil to ‘empty chair’ the trade secretary when she postponed her original appearance before the committee. The committee also issued a report critical of the government.
According to the Express, the committee set out an empty chair Trevelyan where had been expected to be seated and proceeded with the committee.
Trevelyan appeared at the committee a week later and defended the Australia and New Zealand trade deals, claiming that the government had included “a strong set of safeguards” to protect farmers, including a 15-year period to liberalisation.
‘Running down the clock’
Campaigners for fair trade and the environment accused ministers of “running down the clock” before ratification of the deal.
Ruth Bergan, director of the Trade Justice Movement, told the Independent: “This government has been absolutely shameless in ignoring calls from parliament for more scrutiny.”
Nick Dearden, of Global Justice Now, said: “The UK stands on the brink of approving its first new trade deal for decades – one that will threaten thousands of British farming jobs – with barely a murmur.”
New polling by Global Justice Now has also found that 78% of Britons want MPs to debate the pros and cons of new trade deals before they come into force.