Liam Fox's Trade Bill makes a mockery of taking back control

Today the government published its long awaited Trade Bill, one of the key Brexit bills announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year. The bill follows the white paper, ‘Preparing for our future UK trade policy,’ which was published just last month.

Key points:

  • The Trade Bill was published just one day after the public consultation on the white paper closed. This raises questions about how the consultation feedback was taken on board prior to the bill being published

  • Treaty making - making trade deals - is currently a prerogative power. This mean parliament has no statutory role in setting negotiation objectives, scrutinising trade deals, or ratification. The bill proposes no changes to this system.

  • In the past Liam Fox has excluded parliament from trade deal scrutiny and ratification - which can be done while treaty making remains preroagtive power. When CETA was agreed between the EU and Canada, Fox unilaterally signed the deal on behalf of the UK and did not give the UK parliament either a debate or a vote on the deal.

Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, said:

“The government's Trade Bill makes a mockery of taking back control. It will come as a shock to the public that making trade deals - which have the potential to impact almost every area of public and private life - are a prerogative power. As a relic from a time when the UK was ruled by an absolute  monarch, this means parliament currently has no statutory role in trade deals - not in agreeing negotiating objectives, scrutinising the government, or choosing whether to adopt the deal or not. Rather than using the Trade Bill as an opportunity to remedy this historical hangover by taking back control and giving it to Parliament, Liam Fox has chosen to hoard power for himself.

"Without fundamental reform, parliament will have to come grovelling on it’s knees to get so much as a whiff of an idea about what Liam Fox is putting on the bargaining table. Data protection and internet privacy rights, chlorine chicken, hormone beef, the NHS, and clean beaches - these could all be bargaining chips in future trade deals.

“Fox’s attitude toward engaging the public and parliament in trade is deeply alarming. The trade bill was published a mere day after the public consultation closed, making a mockery of public engagement with the process. Fox has a track record of ignoring parliament when it comes to trade - let us not forget that he refused to give Parliament so much as a debate on CETA. Unfortunately, he can and will ignore parliament so long as treaty making remains a prerogative power.

“Parliament must flex it’s muscles now and strip Fox and the government of these excessively wide, unchecked, and arcane powers. Parliament must be at the front and centre of trade deals - from setting negotiating objectives for the government, through to scrutinising the government’s progress and ratifying deals, or vetoing them if it so chooses. If ‘taking back control’ is to mean anything, then there must be a greater role for people and Parliament in deciding what the future of the UK looks like.”


Notes to editors:

Unlock Democracy is a cross-party campaign for democratic and constitutional reform. The campaign is Brexit neutral, and took no position on the EU membership referendum. Unlock Democracy is owned and run by it’s supporters, and information about its funding as well as its campaigns are available online:

Foir further information about Unlock Democracy's proposals for changing the way trade deals are negotiated and ratified in the UK, please refer to their June 2017 report (including executive summary) , ‘A Democratic Brexit: Avoiding Constitutional Crisis in Brexit Britain’.

Press contact:
Phone: 0207 278 4443 [Out of office hours only: 07983 280 187]

Samuel EllisComment