It can sometimes take time for mistakes that have occurred in Parliament to emerge and for them to begin to be understood. I appreciate that writing about an event that took place three weeks ago today is not very prompt, but very sadly the outcome will impact our nation for many decades to come. I recall that one of the arguments made by the Vote Leave campaigners during the EU referendum was that the Sovereignty of Parliament needed to be returned from Brussels. However three weeks ago Parliament handed over its sovereignty on Free Trade Arrangements (FTAs) to the Government. On the 20th July the House of Commons debated and voted on a law regarding how FTAs would be determined, now that we are leaving the EU which sets out its FTAs with the involvement of the European Parliament. One MP who played a critical role in the recent debate was Jonathan Djanogly who is now the Conservative MP for Huntingdon. Prior to that he was a Solicitor and so he understands legal issues better than most of his colleagues. Prior to the 2010 General Election he was the Shadow Solicitor General for England and Wales and afterwards he was the Parliamentary Under-secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice until 2012.
The reason that Jonathan took part was because he introduced a new clause to go into the Trade Bill and the title of this was the Parliamentary approval of Trade Agreements or Trade Deals. Such a theme would make sense to most people and so it is very disturbing that by the end of that day, the vote to allow Parliament to approve the terms of all future Trade Agreements or Deals was lost by 63 votes. Given how the Conservative Party currently dominates Parliament the result was not a great surprise except of course that Jonathan is a Conservative MP and along with his vote there were 11 other Conservatives who voted for his clause 4 including well known MPs such as Damian Collins, Roger Gale and Theresa Villiers. In addition votes came from John Stevenson who is also a Solicitor and Peter Aldous, George Freeman and Julian Sturdy who are all people who have strong connections to the farming industry which will be strongly impacted by many of the trade deals. Another vote was from Neil Parish who was the South West MEP from 1999 to 2009 and he has been an MP since 2010 so he understands more about FTAs than most MPs. Clause 4 included the following text “Negotiations towards a free trade agreement may not commence until the Secretary of State has laid draft negotiating objectives in respect of that agreement before both Houses of Parliament, and a motion endorsing draft negotiating objectives has been approved by a resolution of both Houses of Parliament. The United Kingdom may not become a signatory to a free trade agreement to which this section applies unless a draft of the agreement in the terms in which it was to be presented for signature by parties to the agreement has been laid before, and approved by, a resolution of both Houses of Parliament.” Sadly all of the Sussex Conservative MPs apart from Peter Bottomley voted to oppose Clause 4 and the three other MPs from Brighton and Hove all voted to support Jonathan’s proposal. The only Sussex MP who spoke during the debate was Caroline Lucas who stated “As a member of the European Parliament’s trade committee, I had far more powers of scrutiny over trade agreements as an MEP than I have ever had as an MP here” Along with this statement there were comments from parties such as DUP, Plaid Cymru, SNP, Liberal Democrats and Labour all of which supported this clause and most of them called on the Conservative Party to support Jonathan Djanogly who stated “Clause 4 suggests a new scrutiny process for all FTAs. It will still be the Executive that negotiate FTAs, but Parliament would get a yes/no vote on the negotiating objectives and, importantly, on the final draft agreement, as happens in the US and Japan. Not only has such a provision not ended up in the Bill, but the Government’s position has seemingly reverted to us having less scrutiny than we had as a member of the EU” So the question which I and many other Sussex residents have is why did our Sussex Conservative MPs choose to ignore the basis for this vital clause. Clearly many of us who wanted to remain in the EU lost out that opportunity but most people, who voted to leave including many of our Sussex residents, did so to give sovereignty to our Parliament. Yet the MPs who opposed this have removed sovereignty from Parliament and handed it over to the Government.