Blog: Brexit trade deals to be put in force before MPs get a chance to scrutinise them – The Independent

Brexit trade deals with other countries are likely to be put in force before MPs have a chance to fully scrutinise them, the government has announced.

Trade minister Greg Hands told the House of Commons on Tuesday afternoon that it was likely there would not be enough time for a full scrutiny process on the agreements before 31 December, when the UK leaves the EU customs union.

The government has spent the last year trying to negotiate UK-only versions of trade deals Britain enjoyed through its membership of the EU, for when it loses access to the old agreements in the new year.

But the process has been difficult and up to £80 billion of trade with states around the world that was previously covered by EU deals is yet to be covered by replacements – meaning some businesses face worse terms of global trade on 1 January.

But Mr Hands has now announced that even deals that have been agreed will have to have “provisionally applied” without scrutiny because there is not enough time for MPs to go over them before the EU deals are lost.

That means controversial aspects of any trade agreements will be put in place before they can be sent back by MPs. Not applying the available deals from 31 December would mean worse terms of trade for  businesses.

“All the signed agreements would be subject to the statutory scrutiny process as set out in the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act providing a guaranteed period for Parliament to scrutinise and debate these agreements,” Mr Hands said.

Answering an urgent question on trade deals by shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry, the international trade minister added: “As we approach the end of the transition period, it is possible that the scrutiny window for remaining agreements extends beyond January 1 into the New Year.

“This means that we may need to use provisional application for a short period in order to guarantee continuity of trading relationships and avoid any cliff-edges.”

Mr Hands told MPs that provisional application was normal practice and that “many EU trade agreements were or are being provisionally applied”.

But Labour’s Ms Thornberry said the issue “should never have become urgent” and said the government had made a “mockery” of rules designed to scrutinise the agreements.

“The Government has literally had years to protect our free trade with countries like Canada, Singapore and Mexico and with just six weeks to go until the end of the transition period, 15 of those continuity agreements have still not been secured, leaving £80 billion of UK trade at risk – that is two and a half times our trade with Japan,” she said.


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“Fifteen agreements which have been left so late that the Government will now have to ride roughshod over the rules of parliamentary scrutiny to implement them in time.”

Ms Thornberry accused the government of “sheer bumbling incompetence”, and criticised Secretary of State Liz Truss for failing to attend her urgent question, which she described as “a fitting symbol of her total failure to grasp this issue during her 16 months in office”.

15 EU trade agreements with third countries, including Canada and Turkey, have still not been rolled over by Britain with just a month and a half to go until UK leaves its post-Brexit transition period.

Since the Brexit vote the government has managed to roll over 24 EU trade deals, covering £146bn of UK trade, around 10 per cent of the total, with countries ranging from Switzerland to South Korea.

The negotiations are separate to talks with Brussels about replacing Britain’s trading relationship with the EU, which is by far its biggest trading partner.

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