Improving UK Parliamentary scrutiny of international trade agreements

Now that the UK has left the EU, it is reverting to a centuries-old process for ratifying trade agreements that provides little room for parliamentary scrutiny. In their recent working paper, ‘Ripe for reform: UK scrutiny of international trade agreements’, Emily Jones, Director of the Global Economic Governance Programme (GEG) and Associate Professor in Public Policy, and Anna Sands, GEG Research Officer, carried out a comparison of parliamentary scrutiny of trade deals between the UK and the USA, EU, Australia and Canada. They demonstrate how parliaments in the US and EU have extensive powers of scrutiny, including oversight of the negotiations, and a debate and vote on the trade agreement before it is ratified. Meanwhile, in the UK, Australia and Canada, the negotiation and ratification of trade agreements is an executive power, and the main role of parliament is to enact any legislation that is needed for the trade agreement to come into effect; however, only some parts of an agreement may require implementing legislation, and this may be secondary legislation which is not subject to parliamentary debate.

In a recent blog for UK in a Changing Europe, Emily and Anna summarise the current context and outline how the multitude of ways in which trade agreements affect citizens’ lives – from food standards, as exemplified in the well-publicised concerns over chlorinated chicken entering the UK market, to healthcare – provide a compelling reason (among others) for strengthening Parliament’s scrutiny role. In a blog for the UK Trade Policy Observatory, they evaluate current processes in further detail and outline concrete steps the UK can take to strengthen Parliament’s role in ratifying trade agreements.