This Trade Bill is a straight-forward, but key piece of legislation, which allows the UK to continue trade agreements with 20 countries “rolling over” the agreements from our time as a member of the EU. This will be vital for our economy as we move towards the end of the transition period. It also allows British businesses to access £1.3 trillion of overseas government contracts and gives them protection from unfair trade practices. The Bill states: “Regulations under subsection (1) may make provision for the purpose of implementing a free trade agreement only if the other signatory (or each other signatory) and the EU were signatories to a free trade agreement immediately before exit day.” As you can see, this does not have anything to do with future trade agreements. The Rt Hon Liz Truss, the Secretary of State for International Trade, stated in the House of Commons, ‘this is a continuity bill that cannot be used to implement any trade agreement between the UK and the EU itself. Nor can the Bill be used to implement an agreement with a country that did not have a trade agreement with the EU before exit day, such as the USA.’
During the Trade Bill debate which took place in the House of Common on 20th July 2020, the Rt Hon Greg Hands, Trade Minister, explained to the House of Commons why New Clause 2 – further scrutiny of Trade Bills - was not a necessary amendment due to the procedures already in place, via the continuity programme. “The purpose of our continuity programme is to provide certainty to businesses and consumers by retaining the preferential trading arrangements from which the UK benefits as a signatory to trade agreements that the EU had signed with third countries before exit day. That is why we have now concluded 20 continuity agreements with 48 countries, accounting for £110 billion of UK trade in 2018, which represents 74% of the trade with countries with which we were seeking continuity before the withdrawal agreement was signed. Each of those agreements has been accompanied by a parliamentary report, and I can confirm that we will continue to publish reports for all continuity agreements yet to be signed. As those parliamentary reports make clear, our continuity programme has remained true to its mandate: replicating our existing trade relationships. Let me repeat that standards have not been lowered in these 20 agreements. Unsafe food will not be entering our market, and our right to choose how we deliver public services has been protected.” The reason why the amendments were not passed was because they were clearly a show of opposition to the leaving of the EU, rather than a true protection of UK Food Standards.
The amendment to the Trade Bill has publicly been perceived as an amendment which is protecting the NHS in future trade agreements – this is false and unfortunately the NHS has become somewhat politicised in this. The Prime Minister, the Trade Secretary and the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care has made it clear that the NHS is not up for sale. We will never accept changes to the NHS being free at the point of need. We will never accept any trade deal that changes our ability to regulate the NHS or any public service. We will never accept any trade deal that decreased control of procurement and competition rules by forcing the NHS to provide preferential access to foreign companies. We will never accept changes to the UK’s medicines pricing and reimbursement system which negatively impact the NHS.
The Prime Minister, the Trade Minister and the whole Government have been completely clear the NHS will not be on the table in any trade negotiations. Head of public affairs Mark Dayan, from the Nuffield Trust clearly stated a trade deal ‘would not have the power to stop the NHS being a free, universal service’ or to redesign the funding model of a public service’.
I understand the worry social media can cause, and I find it heart-breaking that the NHS can continually be used in such a way. It is a pillar of our society and the Conservative Party will continue to champion the NHS as it has always done so. Between 2018 and 2023, this Government will have raised funding for the NHS by 29 per cent. By the end of this Parliament, it will mean more than £650 million extra a week. Furthermore, on the prevalent issue of mental health, this Government is committed to providing funding for mental health services quicker than funding uplifts in other areas of the NHS.
Simply put - the Trade Bill passing does NOT mean substandard food will be flooding into our supermarkets. The Government remains absolutely committed to maintaining the UK’s world leading food standards. It also absolutely does not mean the NHS is “for sale” or “on the table” in any future trade agreements. Despite what multiple opposition MPs have repetitively tried to say. It is simply a lie and it is unfortunate that those in opposition continuously use the NHS as a political tool. This Conservative Government has made its commitment to the NHS clear at all stages and repeatedly said it won’t form part of any new trade deals in future.
A link to the debate in the House of Commons regarding the Trade Bill can be read here: https://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2020-07-20/debates/D5201166-082F-458F-9016-60B1D01CE750/TradeBill