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Brexit

UK ministers face fresh challenge over post-Brexit trade deals

By Trevor Mason and Nick Lester, PA Political Staff

Ministers in the UK are facing a fresh challenge over giving Parliament a bigger say in post-Brexit trade deals.

A Tory backbench attempt to give MPs and peers a role in approving new trade agreements was defeated in the Commons.

But opposition peers have warned they will seek to amend the Trade Bill in the Lords to prevent Parliament becoming a “bystander” in the process.

Labour spokesman Lord Stevenson of Balmacara said his party aimed to change the legislation to ensure appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals.

Trade policies would be determined with fewer opportunities for scrutiny and debate inside and outside Parliament unless the Bill was altered, he said, in a second reading debate on the Bill, which has already cleared the Commons.

Lord Stevenson said ministers would be free to negotiate future trade deals using “archaic” powers and “almost entirely avoiding accountability to Parliament” under the Bill as drafted.

It was not acceptable for trade policy to be “off-limits” for both the Commons and the Lords, he added.

For the Liberal Democrats, Baroness Kramer also warned about the potential lack of scrutiny for trade deals, saying Parliament’s role was being largely reduced to a “talking shop and bystander.”

Business minister Lord Grimstone of Boscobel said the implementation of new free trade agreements would be subject to scrutiny arrangements and Parliament would retain the right to block any treaties from being ratified.

“Parliament will retain the right to reject any domestic implementing legislation necessary for a trade deal,” he told peers, in his maiden Lords speech.

Lord Grimstone said the Government was committed to upholding the UK’s “world-class” food safety and animal welfare standards.

Chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef were not permitted for import into the UK, he said, adding: “Food imported or produced in the UK will always be safe.”

As talks between the UK and the EU on a post-Brexit trade deal resumed, Lord Grimstone said the UK now had the opportunity to determine its own rules, defend its national interest and “champion free, fair rules-based trade globally.”

Labour former Cabinet minister Lord Adonis said the best trade policy was membership of the EU and warned the move away from the single market would result in a “dire situation.”

Lord Adonis insisted the Lords should reject outright any Bill which involved “abrogating the withdrawal agreement and Northern Ireland protocol agreed by Boris Johnson last year.”