Even Brexiteers should be appalled at the way the government is mishandling Britain’s trade, says Liberal Democrat MP WERA HOBHOUSE
To negotiate our own trade deals is one of the last hopes of the Conservative government to persuade the public that Brexit is a good thing. The term ‘Global Britain’ has been used time and time again by Theresa May to depict a bright and rosy future for the UK. This fairytale completely misunderstands the strength of the British economy in the modern global world. The British economy is in fact quite vulnerable because more than 50% of British exports are generated by foreign companies, dependent on foreign capital and relying on foreign know-how. These companies and investors are often in the UK because we trade freely within the single market and Britain is seen as a springboard into Europe.
This is equally true for the 60 other countries with whom the EU has trade deals. The government assumes that these deals can be copied and pasted, replacing the ‘EU’ with ‘UK’. Some countries, such as Japan, have indicated a willingness to accept such a deal. However, many countries appear determined to exploit the UK’s weaker negotiating position. The negotiating powers of the UK outside the EU will be much diminished.
The government’s Trade Bill currently passing through parliament aims to provide a framework for the UK to develop a trade policy once the UK leaves the EU. In plainer terms, it is another step in the government’s plan to rip the UK from not only the world’s largest trading bloc but also every free trade deal that the EU has negotiated with third countries.
One of the strongest arguments of the Leave campaign was to ‘Take Back Control’ of our democratic processes here in Westminster. However, instead of giving back control to the UK Parliament like the Leave campaign championed, I have witnessed time and time again in the last ten months countless attempted power grabs by Tory ministers.
Behind closed doors, the government wants to negotiate its own deals without parliamentary scrutiny. British politicians currently have more say over EU trade deals than they will have if we leave the EU and the government trade bill passes in its current form.
This is why the Liberal Democrats have tabled various amendments to try and address these problems.
First and foremost, we must ensure that MPs have scrutiny over future trade deals. Furthermore, there is an enormous danger that the UK’s current commitments to combat climate change, uphold food standards and defend human rights will be quietly scrapped. We cannot tolerate workers’ or children’s rights being diminished by this government.
Equally, we want to ensure the impact of these trade deals on our economy is published. Impact assessments should analyse the expected difference in outcomes between the international trade agreements implemented once the Trade Bill is enforced and those international trade agreements to which the United Kingdom would have been a signatory if still a member of the European Union.
The purpose of our amendments to this bill is to expose that what the government is negotiating will never be as good as the trade deals we have now as a member of the EU. The Trade Bill just another example of the reality of Brexit being remarkably different from what was promised.
What the government is currently negotiating is an insult to Remainers and Leavers alike. No-one voted to weaken the role of the UK parliament.
No-one voted to weaken the high standards of our advanced economy. No-one voted to weaken Britain’s standing on the global stage. The best deal for our country is the one we already have.
Wera Hobhouse is the Liberal Democrat MP for Bath and the party’s spokeswoman for housing, communities and local government