The Tories launched their Brexit Trade Bill last week. This is the legislation that will govern our trading relationship with other countries once we leave the European Union. This Bill would allow the Trade Secretary Liam Fox, to sign new trade deals, copy old ones and favour industries without having to put any of those deals before Parliament for them to be scrutinised and voted on. I agree with the assessment of Frances O’Grady the TUC General Secretary that it will allow the Government to “push through dodgy deals and undermine worker’s rights.”
Our trading relationship with the 27 EU member states, the 50 countries the EU has a trade agreement with and the 72 countries the EU is currently negotiating with, will have to be completely reworked. This covers 85% of our trade with foreign countries. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in Wales depend on us getting this right. So we should be carefully scrutinising each Bill and rejecting those which do not meet our standards, or might damage parts of our economy. It is imperative that we get this right.
Trade deals also need to be handled very carefully for other reasons, because without regulation foreign imports can quickly overrun domestic industries. For instance, a trade deal with New Zealand would seem pretty low risk, but cheap New Zealand lamb could quickly make Welsh sheep farming unsustainable and ruin the Welsh rural economy. Issues like this won’t even be considered if a trade deal with New Zealand doesn’t have to go through the scrutiny of primary legislation. That’s before we get on to the chlorinated chicken that the US is so eager to sell us.
This Bill shows that the Government is not interested in good deals struck to benefit the whole of the UK but fast and dirty deals that will give Liam Fox cheap personal wins, having failed to do any of the trade deals that he so ridiculously promised would be so easy to do. Workers’ rights should also be an important part of our trade policy. It’s all too easy to see how, after we leave the EU, the Government will argue that to be able to compete, we need less regulation in the workplace and fewer protections for workers. We’ll be well on our way to a bargain basement economy. This cannot be allowed to happen.
We need to make sure that the Government is properly accountable and does not use Brexit as an opportunity to sell British industry to the lowest bidder.