Thank you for contacting me about the Trade Bill and the NHS and trade agreement scrutiny.
The Trade Bill is a continuity Bill, and it cannot be used to implement new free trade agreements. Rather, the Trade Bill is designed to roll over the free trade agreements that the EU had signed with third countries prior to the UK exit. The NHS is already protected by specific carve outs, exceptions and reservations in these trade agreements. I know that my Ministerial colleagues have no intention of lowering standards in transitioned trade agreements – the very purpose of these agreements is to replicate as close as possible the effects of existing commitments in EU agreements. Indeed, I can reassure you that none of the 20 continuity agreements signed have resulted in standards being lowered.
In future trade agreements, the Government has made a commitment that the NHS will not be on the table. Indeed, I note Ministers have made clear they will ensure rigorous protections are included for the NHS in all trade agreements to which the UK is party.
Rigorous checks and balances on the Government’s power to negotiate and ratify new agreements also already exist, including through the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010. With regards to scrutiny of future trade agreements, these are not ratified until domestic legislation has been implemented. Public consultations will be held prior to negotiations to inform the Government’s approach and MPs will be briefed. Regular updates will be provided to Parliament and select committees will get 10 sitting days to examine the texts of trade deals. I believe that this is a balanced approach which respects the UK Constitution, whilst ensuring Parliament is able to effectively scrutinise trade policy, including ensuring protection for our NHS.
Moreover, trade agreements cannot by themselves make changes to our domestic law. Any legislative changes required as a result of trade agreements would be subject to the separate scrutiny and approval of Parliament in the usual ways.
I hope this response has provided some reassurance and thank you again for taking the time to contact me.