Dominic Raab has faced Tory pressure to develop new measures to block trade deals with countries found to have committed genocide.
The foreign secretary told MPs he rejected a cross-party amendment made by peers to the Trade Bill, describing it as “well-meaning” but also “rather ineffective and counter-productive”.
The House of Lords changed the proposed legislation by supporting a measure to block trade deals with countries judged by the High Court to have committed genocide.
Raab disagreed with a reliance on judges in the process of making decisions on trade agreements, adding any “responsible” government would have also taken action “well before” another nation is ruled to have committed genocide.
But Conservative former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said Raab needs to sit down with him and others to bring forward a “better” amendment to the Bill.
Speaking in the Commons, Raab said of the Lords amendment: “It would be frankly absurd for any government to wait for the human rights situation in a country to reach the level of genocide, which is the most egregious international crime, before halting FTA negotiations.
“Any responsible government would have acted well before then.
“At the same time, every campaigner against free trade would seek to use that legal provision to delay or halt FTA negotiations by tying the government up in litigation that may last months, if not years, with no plausible genocide concluded at the end.”
Raab added it is right for the courts to decide if the terms of “genocide” are met, but warned it would be “quite wrong” for a government to “sub-contract” to the courts its responsibility for deciding when a country’s human-rights record is bad enough to stop trade talks.
Sir Iain later told the Commons: “Genocide really is a vital issue for us and I do think that (Raab) now needs to sit down and discuss with myself and others bringing forward a better amendment to make sure that we can start that process.
“In this week of the Holocaust memorial, we need to act. After all, when they last didn’t act, just look what happened.”
Raab responded: “I’m very happy to talk to him about the issue of genocide. He will know that my father fled the Holocaust, I couldn’t take it more seriously.
“I hope he will also listen to what I said to (shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy), and he will know and be all too aware of, the risk of sub-contracting issues to the courts which are rightly the responsibility and the prerogative of this House.
“Also, the fact that frankly we should be taking action well below the level of a genocide in terms of the executive decisions that we make.”