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Trade Deals: Human Rights

Volume 696: debated on Thursday 10 June 2021

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (900739)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (900742)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (900747)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (900750)

What recent discussions she has had with UK trade partners on inserting clauses on human rights in future trade deals. (900754)

The United Kingdom has long supported the promotion of her values globally. We are clear that more trade does not need to come at the expense of rights or responsibilities, and although our approach to agreements will vary between partners, our strong economic relationships allow us to have open discussions on a range of issues.

Penblwydd hapus, Mr Speaker. Given the ongoing violations of international law by the Israeli Government, the attacks on the human rights of the Palestinian people and their suffering, and Israel’s recent bombardment of the Gaza strip in May, in which more than 240 Palestinians, over a quarter of them children, were killed, thousands more were injured and more than 90,000 people displaced, does the Minister agree that it is now essential that there is an investigation into whether UK-made arms or components have been used in the recent violence and destruction of homes, businesses and health facilities in Gaza? In the meantime, will the Government immediately cease the export of arms to Israel?

Every Israeli and Palestinian has the right to live in peace and security. We understand the deep frustration on all sides at the lack of progress in the middle east peace process. The ongoing violence just underlines that a lasting resolution that ends these problems is long overdue. In respect of our arms exports, we have a robust arms export control process in the United Kingdom that is governed by the consolidated criteria, and no exports occur where the consolidated criteria are not met.

The UK’s deal with Cameroon will complete its ratification process today, with no vote by MPs and no apparent concern from Ministers about the abuse that is taking place in that country. Can I ask the Minister whether he thinks the US Government were wrong to end preferential trade with Cameroon because of the Biya regime’s abuses, and if not, why are we ratifying a deal to do the opposite?

The Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), spoke in an Adjournment debate yesterday on this topic, and the Opposition could, of course, have used an Opposition day debate on this area. We have a strong history of protecting rights around the world, promoting our values globally, and we will continue to do so. By having an economic partnership agreement in place and encouraging trade, we are continuing to support some of the most vulnerable people in Cameroon, providing valuable employment and helping to lift them out of poverty.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker.

“Mass torture”, “rape” and “forced sterilisation”—that is the testimony of dozens of survivors at the Uyghur tribunal in London, which is chaired by the former lead prosecutor at The Hague, Sir Geoffrey Nice, QC. Does the Minister really think the British Government should be turning a blind eye to the suffering of the human race for the sake of trade deals?

We have not. We have proven our leadership and commitment time and again. We have ramped up pressure on China in multilateral forums. We are taking targeted action on supply chains and our approach to China remains clear-eyed: we remain rooted in our values and in our interests. The truth is that we have announced a series of measures to help make sure that British businesses and the public sector are in no way complicit in the rights violations in Xinjiang, and that includes making sure there is a review of export controls as they apply to the situation there.

Happy birthday, Mr Speaker. The English-speaking population in Cameroon faces mass killings, atrocities and torture. As we have heard, the US has now invoked trade sanctions, but the UK has signed a trade deal without parliamentary approval. So can I ask: has the EU’s essential rights clause now been removed from all future trade deals, so that abuses, however abhorrent and widespread, will now be supported by the British economy through secret deals, thereby taking control back from Parliament and giving it to those with blood on their hands?

I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman is referring to in respect of secret deals. This is an agreement that the EU had originally. We have continued an agreement here to provide certainty to businesses in both countries and to date the EU has not taken measures against Cameroon—I know how fond he is of the EU.

In response to the Adjournment debate last night, the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness, told the House in relation to Cameroon that

“Violence does appear to have decreased in recent months compared with the peak of the conflict”.—[Official Report, 9 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 1070.]

as if the fact that the Biya regime is killing and maiming fewer of its citizens was justification for our trade deal with them. Is it really the Government’s position that it is fine to do trade deals with murderous regimes if they are now killing fewer of their own people than they were?

The British people will have noticed that I have now answered five questions from Labour Members on future trade agreements and, instead of seeking to secure benefits for their constituents on those deals, they are clutching at straws to stop them. The Labour party is hopelessly out of touch. This Conservative Government are focused on delivering for the British people. Unlike Labour, we have a plan for jobs and growth, and trade is central to that. We have secured trade deals with 67 countries around the world, plus the EU, covering trade worth £730 billion last year—and we are just getting started.