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Brexit: Trade Agreements

Volume 788: debated on Thursday 18 January 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to avoid limitations on United Kingdom sovereignty in negotiating trade agreements with other states after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

My Lords, after leaving the EU, it will be the UK Government, not the EU, who will decide what trade agreements to pursue and what the contents of those agreements will be. Decisions on all future trade agreements will be made here in the UK, based on what is in the best interests of the UK.

My Lords, unless we go for unilateral free trade, I assume that trade agreements will be a bargain between the UK and others, in which we will have to make concessions, which will affect domestic law. Does the Minister recall that the Indian Government, for example, have made it clear that they would expect concessions on freedom of movement, which would affect British migration policy, in return for a trade agreement? Does she recall the US Commerce Secretary saying that he would expect the UK to move towards accepting US regulations, instead of EU regulations, in phytosanitary and other areas, in return for a trade agreement? Does she recall that the NAFTA trade agreement allows US multinationals to sue in foreign courts, and that Eli Lilly is currently suing in Canadian courts, demanding that Canada changes its domestic patent law? Are those not all incursions on sovereignty?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. What I can say is that, for the first time in 40 years, we will have the ability to operate an independent trade policy. We will be negotiating on behalf of the UK, in the interests of the UK. Clearly, any trade agreement is a negotiation between two parties, but we will always ensure that all parts of the UK are taken into account when we negotiate to benefit the UK as a whole. That is why we would undertake those trade agreements.

Will the Minister join me in warmly welcoming the concern of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, about the importance of parliamentary sovereignty, and does she therefore look forward, as I certainly do, to receiving the noble Lord’s support when we deal with the Act that most significantly diminished British parliamentary sovereignty, namely, the 1972 European Communities Act?

We have made a decision as a country that we will leave the EU, and as part of that we will be leaving the jurisdiction of the European court. Clearly, what is of concern is that its rulings are binding on all national courts, including those of the UK, as we agreed. However, when entering into international agreements, no state has ever submitted to the direct jurisdiction of a court in which it does not have representation—and we have representation. When we have the ability to enter into new international agreements, our aim will be to make sure that we keep all our protections for the environment and human rights. Those protections are important, as we maintain those agreements.

On the subject of parliamentary sovereignty, does my noble friend not agree with the Supreme Court that, while Parliament authorised the referendum and the Government are therefore right to pursue the discussions that they are pursuing, it is also the case, as the Supreme Court has ruled, that the outcome of those negotiations must be laid before Parliament for approval?

As my noble friend said, this is a matter that is still under discussion in the other place, and that is what is happening.

Does the Minister not agree that the question from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, appears to be misplaced, in that the most onerous trade agreement can never abrogate sovereignty?

I thank the noble Lord for his input. Yes, the ability of a country to regulate on its own behalf in the public interest is well recognised in international law. Therefore, we would expect to be able to continue to regulate in our national interest. In the terms of our agreements, that is what we will be achieving in our agreements—going for the UK’s best interests.

The EU trade deals have been underpinned by a commitment to human rights, to public health, to safe food and to fair trade, not just in the national interest but in the interest of fairness across the world. It has been leading on that. Can the Minister guarantee that none of these rights will be in jeopardy as we negotiate new trade deals with third countries?

I thank the noble Baroness for that input. It is true that, within the EU treaties, our trade agreements have been underpinned by really deep and enforceable environmental and human rights protections. There is an absolute commitment by the Government that those will be maintained as we go forward.

My Lords, medicines, chemicals and aviation are a fundamental part of the British economy and will be key elements of any trade agreements going forward. Can the Minister confirm that it is the Government’s position to propose that those sectors will continue to be under EU regulation, rather than UK regulation? Any future trade agreements will therefore have to comply with EU regulations, over which the UK will not have a say, and those components will be under the ongoing auspices of the European Court of Justice.

I cannot give that assurance to the noble Lord, as it has not been agreed. What I can give an assurance on is that the UK has been at the very forefront of the highest standards for public safety and the environment, not just for the UK but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said, for the world. We will continue that commitment because it is an absolutely critical part of the belief of, I think, all parts of this House.