Liam Fox in denial over public concern at post-Brexit trade deals, say campaigners

By agency reporter
July 19, 2019

Trade campaigners have reacted with fury to the long-delayed results of the Department for International Trade’s four public consultations on post-Brexit trade deals, released on 18 July 2019. They accuse the department of planning to ignore hundreds of thousands of responses demanding that the public is given a say over future trade deals, and expressing concern over the prospects for food standards and the NHS.

The consultations, which covered potential deals with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Pacific nations, took place in autumn 2018. They have been described as the largest UK government consultation in history after Secretary of State Liam Fox confirmed in December that more than 600,000 responses were received.

The four summaries of responses to the consultation outline the main themes of submissions from individuals, businesses, NGOs and public sector organisations, but make no commitments on policy, stating only that the Government will continue to actively consider the feedback as it looks to finalise it negotiating objectives for future trade deals.

The release follows reports this week that Conservative leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson plans to try to negotiate elements of a US-UK trade deal in advance of the 31 October Brexit deadline. It also follows US President Donald Trump’s comments during his state visit in June that the NHS would be “on the table” in negotiations over a US-UK trade deal. Informal trade talks are already taking place, with a US-UK working group meeting regularly.

The government’s Trade Bill is still awaiting a return to the Commons months after it was amended in the House of Lords to give parliament a say over future trade deals.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: “Liam Fox has spent three years banging the drum for post-Brexit trade deals, yet these consultations show that there remains the deepest public concern over what they could contain. Fox has totally failed to reassure the public over the threat to our food standards, our NHS and our democracy itself from his trade plans, and today’s sham promise that his department will listen should fool nobody – hundreds of thousands of responses will essentially be ignored, making it the largest tick-box exercise in history.

"In fact, Fox is so determined to prevent the public or even parliament from having a say that he has seemingly stopped pushing his own Trade Bill through parliament. If the next Prime Minister gets his way of negotiating a rapid trade deal with the United States, it is a travesty that while it will require approval from the US Congress, as it stands our own elected representatives will have no such power to amend or block it.”

David Lawrence, Senior Political Adviser at the Trade Justice Movement, said: “The government’s response to these consultations is disappointing. At the Trade Justice Movement we represent 70 civil society organisations ranging from trade unions and faith groups to environmental NGOs and health campaigners. All of our members are deeply concerned about the Government’s proposed Brexit trade deals, particularly the effect they could have on standards, public services and the environment.

"The consultations were supposed to be a chance to raise these concerns, but there has been very little transparency about how these responses are recorded and fed into trade policy. As the UK ‘takes back control’ of trade, we need a new transparent and comprehensive process for civil society engagement and democratic oversight of trade deals.”

Jean Blaylock, Senior Campaigns Officers at War on Want said: “The Department for International Trade has had nine months to consider this consultation and has nothing to say at the end of it except that they will ‘consider the points raised’. Such a bland, empty response is comically inadequate, especially given the scale of the issues. These are high risk trade deals that could go badly wrong.

"Thousands of people told Liam Fox about the danger. The deals could exacerbate global inequality, undermine food standards, entrench corporate courts, hand over our data to big tech companies, and weaken public services both here and around the world. The government needs to stop being in denial about this.”

* Read the summary of responses on trade negotiations with the USA here

* Global Justice Now https://www.globaljustice.org.uk/

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