MPs have accused the Government of giving ministers the power to undermine environmental standards in its flagship Trade Bill.
The Bill has been brought forward to allow the UK to replicate EU trade deals with 50 other countries, which account for 12 per cent of UK trade.
Under the terms of the Bill, Ministers will be given the power to amend secondary legislation covering those existing trade agreements – which the Government says have already been scrutinised by parliament.
But during a debate on the Bill this week, co-leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas claimed Ministers were ‘absolutely wrong’ to suggest they were simply rolling over existing EU trade agreements.
“Plenty of countries with which we have trade agreements might not wish to be rolled over in this way, and they might have strong views about changing those agreements”, she told MPs.
Ms Lucas went on to point out that the Government’s own explanatory notes said it may be necessary to ‘substantially amend’ the text of the previous deals.
“We need to recognise we are not talking about a straightforward rollover”, she added.
“We are talking about essentially new agreements. Presumably this is why the Bill grants Ministers extraordinary Henry VIII powers to implement – or more accurately replace – existing agreements without further parliamentary scrutiny for up to 10 years.”
Shadow Minister for International Trade Bill Esterson agreed.
He said: “The problem with the Bill is it proposes powers for the Secretary of State without scrutiny, and without the opportunity for parliament to have its say on what is and is not significant.
“Those powers raise the prospect of cuts in environmental and consumer standards.”
Ms Lucas also criticised the Bill for failing to implement an ‘accountable trade policy’.
“The kind of framework we need would include the requirement for impact assessments to be conducted before negotiating or renegotiating a trade agreement”, she said.
“Those impact assessments should not be limited just to economics; they should cover social, environmental and human rights aspects and, crucially, they should be published.”