Mon 18 January 2021

MPs today pressuring Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox to explain hundreds of trade agreements had to ‘play detective’ on the web to discover the facts.

Following a Financial Times report   that 759 different treaties, agreements, mutual recognition agreements and other legislation need to be rolled-over for Brexit, MPs on the International Trade Committee got more information from a simple internet search

Is it normal for Members of Parliament to have to research other Governments’ websites to understand what is being negotiated between this Government and another Government?

Catherine West MP, International Trade Committee

At a committee hearing 6 February Fox was unable to confirm the FT’s headline to the committee: “We have always said around 40,” he told MPs. He was responding the committee chair Angus MacNeil who had written requesting the information at the end of January. He reiterated his demand:

“Can we get a definitive list of your trade-related agreements that need to be rolled over by March 2019? The Committee needs to know that. We need to know that in 51 days’ time—we have been asking for it; we have asked before,” MacNeil asked.

Fox replied: “Yes we can provide you with those.”

Today is the Committee’s deadline for more clarity on these hundreds of trade deals and agreements that need to be kept in place while Britain faces exiting the EU at the end of March.

The hearing last week further revealed that MPs were forced to ‘turn detective’ and search the Swiss government’s website for information on trade negotiations.

Catherine West MP (Labour) chided the Trade Secretary: “Is that really the tone that the Department wants to set with the Committee—obfuscation and refusal to come to us for scrutiny? That is a very bad way to get off, given that we are seeking information for very good reasons, 51 days before a potential no-deal Brexit.”

Fox told West, regarding the Swiss Deal: “I will not say too much now, because I intend to say something on the Floor of the House next week if possible.”

West countered: “Well, you don’t need to, because the Swiss Government have done it for you.”

She added: “Is it normal for Members of Parliament to have to research other Governments’ websites to understand what is being negotiated between this Government and another Government?”

Yesterday the Committee tweeted a nagging letter from its chair, Angus MacNeil (SNP), to the Secretary of State:

“When I pressed you on this matter during your oral evidence earlier this week, you told us that “I will write to you exactly which departments are responsible for which of [the trade-related agreements].” In respect of the list of trade-related agreements, you likewise told us “Yes we can provide you with those.” Accordingly, I would like to receive these two lists by Wednesday 13 February.”

If Fox delivers on his promise to MacNeil’s deadline today, it will then be up to the Committee to decide whether to make the information public next week.

UPDATE: Liam Fox Appears before the Select Committee

Liam Fox appearing at the International Trade committee on 6 February

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