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MPs want ‘meaningful vote’ to be able to veto post-Brexit trade deals

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MPs should have the power to veto post-Brexit trade deals negotiated by the government, a powerful Commons committee is demanding.

The all-party International Trade Committee is calling for a “meaningful vote” on all trade agreements, a demand likely to be firmly rejected by the government.

With the vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal currently deadlocked and postponed until next month, the proposal for further Commons votes on trade will dismay ministers.

But the committee claims parliament, business, civil society, the devolved administrations and local government should all play a role in any post-Brexit trade policy.

The proposal comes ahead of a vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal in January
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The proposal comes ahead of a vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal in January

In a controversial report, the committee calls for a meaningful role for parliament before, during and after trade agreements and a presumption of transparency in relation to negotiating documents.

Scottish National Party MP and arch-Remainer Angus MacNeil, the committee’s chairman, said: “The UK is set to begin negotiating its own trade agreements for the first time in 40 years.

“These agreements have the potential to affect every part of every UK citizen’s life – from the quality of the food we eat to the money in our pocket.

“We have seen what happens when the public and parliament are deliberately kept in the dark over trade negotiations.

“With so much to gain or lose, everyone has the right be heard.

“Current government plans for the transparency and scrutiny of future trade negotiations are characteristically vague and attempt to dress poor planning up as pragmatism.

Angus MacNeil has post-Brexit trade agreements have 'the potential to affect every part' of our lives
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Angus MacNeil says post-Brexit trade agreements have ‘the potential to affect every part’ of our lives

“Our report makes an unequivocal argument for transparency over secrecy, consultation over concealment, and parliamentary debate over simple rubber-stamping.

“The government should allow parliament, devolved government, business and civil society to contribute positively to the development of a negotiating mandate.

“It should guarantee parliament a vote on the ratification of trade deals and give our Committee the tools we need to oversee and scrutinise negotiations as they progress.

“It should ensure that devolved government has a statutory and meaningful role and expand its means of consultation with business and civil society.

“If the proper processes and protections are not put in place from the outset, the government may fail to realise the UK-wide post-Brexit benefits it has gone to such lengths to promote.”

The committee claims parliament should be involved throughout trade negotiations, beginning with a debate on a substantive, amendable motion once the government has agreed an outline approach, and before negotiations are under way.

Such a debate would not only allow parliament to express its concerns or objections at the outset, according to the committee, but also lower the risk of it rejecting eventual negotiated agreements – as government would be required to take parliament’s view into account before mandates are set and negotiations commence.

During the negotiation of trade deals, ministers and civil servants should provide regular updates to the committee, which should be charged with ensuring detailed oversight of negotiations, the MPs propose.

The committee should then report on the final text of agreements ahead of a final parliamentary debate and vote on ratification, according to the MPs.

The government should also update parliament via ministerial statements throughout negotiations.

The committee, made up of 11 MPs, has a pro-Remain majority.

Its Labour members include prominent pro-Remain MPs Chris Leslie and Catherine West.

But the senior pro-Leave Tory MP Nigel Evans is also a member.

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