Last night saw the Trade Bill return to the House of Commons, replete with a set of newly minted amendments from the Lords. It’s designed to regulate so-called continuity agreements, ensuring that the UK is able to trade with other countries on the same basis it did while part of the EU. And it’s worth emphasising the enormous progress we’ve made in doing this – already, we have rolled over 63 trade agreements worth a combined total of around £217 billion. And although such figures seem abstract, I’m conscious of how many jobs and supply-chains dotted around the country (including in our part of Somerset) that number represents.
So I was delighted to vote for the Bill to ensure continuity for businesses and imports. But there was one new Lords amendment which I did feel ought have remained attached to the Bill – requiring the Government to withdraw from trade deals with regimes that have been guilt of genocide. Although this amendment was voted down (with opponents citing the constitutional difficulties of the courts ruling about matters that should be the prerogative of Parliament), I expect a similar amendment to be tabled when the Bill returns to the Lords.
For me, this is of great ethical – and symbolic – importance. As we now adjust to life outside the European Union, the way in which we forge new relationships will define the way in which the UK is viewed, globally. And if we are to make the most of this new geopolitical agility, it’s vital that we can demonstrate a clear, consistent approach to defending the values we articulate.
So in the coming days, I hope to see a compromise emerge. One that gives Parliament the ability to define human rights abuses abroad – and ensure that we don’t give their perpetrators implicit endorsement through our trade relationships.