Ministers have resisted a Tory backbench attempt to give Parliament a definitive say on post-Brexit trade deals as flagship legislation cleared the Commons.
A Tory rebellion failed to gather momentum as an amendment moved by former minister Jonathan Djanogly, which sought to guarantee parliamentary approval of post-Brexit trade agreements, was rejected by 263 votes to 326 – majority 63.
For Labour, shadow international trade minister Bill Esterson said the lack of scrutiny threatens to leave the health service “wide open to pharmaceutical giants” and to “undermine” farmers and consumers.
He told the Commons: “Chemical washes of chicken, hormones in beef, ractopamine in pork and GM crops are banned in the UK – what’s wrong with keeping it that way?
“If the Government is saying we’re going to do it anyway, what’s the objection to putting it all in primary legislation?”
Yes/ no vote
Mr Djanogly said his new clause four would have ensured the executive still negotiated free trade agreements (FTAs) but Parliament would have a “yes/no vote” on the negotiating objectives and the final draft agreement.
He said: “Not only has this not ended up in the Bill, but the Government’s position has seemingly reverted to having less scrutiny than we did as a member of the EU.
“For the last 40 years the EU has been negotiating our trade deals and as part of the EU scrutiny process, a yes/no vote would be taken by the EU Parliament on the draft FTA prior to signature.”
Driving a cart and horse through the principles of parliamentary democracy
Labour MP Emily Thornberry was unable to deliver her speech on the matter, but she had planned to say that Parliament should have “both a voice and vote” when it comes to future trade deals.
She added: “We have constantly warned that this Bill drives a cart and horse through the principles of parliamentary democracy, and nothing demonstrates that more than the story of its passage.
“Time and again last year, the flaws in this Bill were exposed and amendments were agreed in this House and in other places to correct them. But here we are tonight, with almost the exact same Bill. re-submitted and bulldozed through, with all its glaring flaws still intact.
“That is how little this government cares about democracy. That is how little they have cared about getting this Bill right, as opposed to just getting it through”.
Selling ourselves short
Tory former environment secretary Theresa Villiers earlier called on the Government to confirm it will keep the import ban on chlorine-washed chicken.
Ms Villiers said she hoped the Government “will consider seriously whether changes can be made to strengthen parliamentary oversight” through amendments from MPs or in the House of Lords.
She told MPs: “All I’m asking is that we don’t sell ourselves short in this country. The UK is the third-biggest market for groceries in the world – even conditional access to that market is a valuable prize.
“Just because we would like a trade deal with the US doesn’t mean that we should give them everything they want. There is so much we can offer our trading partners in the US and other countries, and is it so unreasonable to say that when it comes to food, there are limits to liberalisation?”
Won’t the consumer decide?
But Tory former minister Steve Brine said: “Ultimately, won’t the consumer decide?
“Just recently we heard Waitrose make it very, very clear that they wouldn’t be selling any product that was imported to a lower standard than we currently enjoy in this country, and their new boss actually quoted chlorine-washed chicken. I just wonder whether the public might be ahead of us on this one already.”