The Tories’ Brexit trade bill has sparked fury across the labour movement, with union figures saying it would endanger thousands of skilled jobs and allow ministers to circumnavigate parliament and strike “dodgy deals”.
The draft legislation was released on Tuesday (November 7), just 24 hours after a supposed “consultation” on the bill closed.
The bill contains provisions to help the government copy current EU trade deals with non-member states so that the terms still apply to the UK after Brexit.
Measures to ensure British firms can continue to bid for contracts worth £1.3trn from foreign governments are also included, as is the creation of a new organisation to defend UK businesses against unfair trade practises.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady, however, said there needs to be focus on what the bill does not include.
She said, “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.”
Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said the government’s rushed publication of the bill, just 24 hours after the consultation deadline, was symptomatic of its irresponsible handling of the Brexit process.
He said, “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.”
Rather than cosying up to Donald Trump’s administration, Burke called on the government to remove the uncertainty it is creating over the UK’s access to EU trade.
He said, “Investment, pay and productivity are all stalling because business is losing confidence in the Tories’ handling of Brexit.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant described the trade bill as a “power grab” that will prevent the parliament from scrutinising the government’s trade policy after Brexit.
He said, “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.”