Post-Brexit trade deals with other countries are going to be implemented prior to parliamentary scrutiny, the government had announced.
Trade minister Greg Hands told the Commons on Tuesday that there was not enough time for MPs to scrutinise any trade deals the UK brokes with other nations before December 31.
This could come as a blow to parliamentarians who saw Brexit as a chance to draw decision-making powers away from the EU and back into the hands of Westminster MPs.
The government has spent much of the last year negotiating trade deals with other countries, having recently concluded an agreement with Japan.
But so far, negotiations have failed to cover the £80 billion of trade Britain is expected to lose when it leaves the EU’s single market and customs union at the end of this year.
Hands said that as a result new trade deals would be “provisionally applied” without scrutiny because there was not enough time for MPs to go over them.
That means any controversial elements of an agreement will be in place before they can be sent back to MPs. Not applying those deals by December 31 could mean worse terms of trade for UK 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,” Hands said, adding: “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.”
The MP said that provisionally applying a deal was normal practice and was something the EU had done with other trade partners previously.
Labour has said the government has made a “mockery” of parliamentary scrutiny.
Shadow trade minister Emily Thornberry said: “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.
“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.”
Thornberry accused the government of acting in “sheer bumbling incompetence” and criticised the secretary of state for trade, Liz Truss, for failing to attend her urgent question, which the MP 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 the UK leaves its post-Brexit transition period.
It has, however, secured the roll-on of 24 other EU trade deals covering £164 billion in trade. These deals are separate from talks occurring in Brussels on the future trading relationship between the EU and Britain.