A letter to Michael Gove concerning Trade and Parliamentary Sovereignty

Dear Michael Gove

May I thank you for taking the time to attend the Oxford Real Farming Conference, both to address the full audience, and in closed session. This was much appreciated.

However please allow me to raise one query with you, which is that I think you misled delegates by implying that Parliament can refuse a trade deal. You said, and I quote:

“On the specific question of trade deals,….at the moment trade policy is a competence of the European Union. After we have left the EU then the intention is that Parliament will ratify trade deals. Of course the executive will negotiate them, but ultimately it will be up to Parliament to ratify them. Therefore on that basis if public opinion and Parliament feel that what has been negotiated on the country’s behalf by the executive doesn’t measure up, then Parliament can say sorry, we decline to accept this.”

Having looked into the matter further, I find your answer to be incorrect. It is true that Parliament ratifies a trade deal, but it is not in a position to refuse it. Under current legislation it can only delay ratification for 21 days. Essentially, Parliament can say ‘yes’ but not ‘no’. And furthermore Parliament is not party to what is being negotiated at the time, nor are trade deals subject to impact assessment. Parliamentary scrutiny is then extremely limited.

I and many other conference delegates find this unacceptable, as trade deals have significant impacts on society, and affect not only tariffs but also standards and regulations. Trade deals should then be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, as part of the democratic process. In particular, any deals agreed as part of Brexit will be far reaching and will affect us for many years to come.

We voted to leave the EU in part because we consider the EU insufficiently accountable. However it appears that we currently have greater scrutiny of trade deals through the EU, as such deals require European Parliament approval, than we will have when we leave the EU. This is surely a step in the wrong direction.

I would encourage you to look more closely at this matter, which has already been discussed in some detail by the International Trade Committee, and to put in place legislation that would allow sufficient Parliamentary scrutiny, as part of the Trade Bill.

With thanks

Jamie Hartzell
Director, the Real Farming Trust

This piece in today’s Guardian by Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now gives more information and context

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