A rushed and ramshackle power grab – MPs and unions condemn Tory trade bill

The Tories’ new Brexit trade bill has been condemned by figures from across the labour movement.

The draft laws were supposed to ensure British firms could still win foreign government contracts worth up to £1.3 trillion, as well as allowing the government to put into practice existing EU trade agreements.

The bill’s publication yesterday, however, just 24 hours after the deadline for a “consultation” on the white paper, prompted a wave of anger from MPs and unions who said it risked costing Britain thousands of skilled jobs.

Chris Bryant MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, said: “The ministerial power grab is fast becoming this government’s standard MO. This bill rides roughshod over the rights of the public and Parliament to scrutinise the Government’s trade policy after we leave the EU.

“There is nothing in the bill about giving MPs a binding vote on future trade deals negotiated by the government. And the bill raises the prospect that our deals with third countries could be altered – quite possibly for the worst – and then pushed through parliament without primary legislation.

“On the day after President Trump’s commerce secretary came to Britain to tell us to sacrifice our environmental and food safety standards to get a trade deal with the US, this sets an alarming precedent.

“The reality is, trade deals with other countries will never make up for what we will lose from leaving the European Single Market, and the Government knows it.”

Tony Burke, assistant general secretary for manufacturing at Unite, said: “This government is lurching between fresh crises and chaos of its own making but the irresponsible handling of the Brexit process must be stopped. The jobs and rights of millions of UK citizens rest upon getting our trading and customs arrangements right.

“These are among the most important decisions to face this country for generations so rushing out the government’s proposals only hours after the consultation closes is astonishing.

“It suggests ministers had no intention of listening to the counsel of others on these basic issues. Indeed the government is keener to please the US commerce secretary in the hope of cutting a deal than it is in protecting the rights and interests of the British people.

“But there are fundamental questions that the Tory government must answer today about their bill. Does this put UK workers’ rights at risk?  What job protections does it provide? Will it leave our NHS and public services vulnerable to predatory interventions from overseas and private sector interests?  Will it imperil our food safety and environmental safeguards? And will parliament be given the time needed to scrutinise proposals of such importance to our country?

“The other pressing issue is what exactly is this government doing to remove the uncertainty it’s creating over our access to one of the world’s biggest trading communities?  Investment, pay and productivity are all stalling because business is losing confidence in the Tories’ handling of Brexit.”

Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, said: “Liam Fox has rushed out a ramshackle bill that barely pays lip service to the consultation his department ran. It shows how little he cares about the views of Britain’s workers and British industry.

“The bill offers no protection for workers’ rights. It offers no protection for public services like the NHS. And it would let ministers push though dodgy deals.

“Liam Fox must not be allowed to undermine our chances of getting a good deal with the EU by wheeler-dealing with countries that lack proper protections for workers. The trade bill must guarantee that the price of entry to a trade deal involving Britain is signing up to the strongest protections for workers and public services.”

Kathleen Walker Shaw, European officer at GMB, said: “Whether people voted to stay in or leave the EU, no-one in Britain voted for their jobs, public and health services, employment and environmental protections to be sold down the river to the lowest bidder, which is what Liam Fox has in mind.

“The Tories claimed to be taking back control, only to give it all away again in liberalising trade policy.

“GMB is dismayed by the failure of government to promise even minimum protections to UK manufacturers and service providers from unfair competition and dumping of cheap subsidised imports onto our market.

“Given the failure of ministers to act in the steel crisis and in the face of the more recent attacks on Bombardier, this position comes as no surprise, but will hopefully wake people up as to what this Government is about.

“Liam Fox needs to take on board GMB’s and other responses to these weak as water proposals, go back to the drawing board and develop a trade policy for the many instead of profit for the few.”

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