Ministers have “bottled” giving MPs the final say on the UK-Australia free trade agreement, the Commons has heard.
Trade minister Ranil Jayawardena came under fire after confirming the Government was not scheduling a debate on the deal before the summer recess.
Mr Jayawardena, responding to an urgent question from Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall, said: “I should point out that we expect Australia to conclude its parliamentary process before we do. Therefore any delay to our process slows the deal’s economic benefits from being felt across Britain.”
But Mr Mangnall said: “This is the first trade agreement, the first whole new trade agreement we have signed, since leaving the European Union. But, unfortunately, we have not had the scrutiny we deserve.”
The MP for Totnes stressed that then-trade secretary and now Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had promised in October there would be a debate in the Commons, with Parliament able to block any trade deal if it is not happy with it.
SNP MP Dave Doogan said: “This deal was signed in December 2021 and Parliament has never had an opportunity to properly scrutinise and vote on it.
“The Secretary of State for International Trade (Anne-Marie Trevelyan) has bottled it at the select committee twice, she’s clearly bottled it today.
“Why are they opening up Scottish farmers to a country 30 times larger than the UK? Although the Trade and Agriculture Commission has said we don’t have to review our standards, it’s not our standards we’re worried about – it’s the Australian standards.”
For Labour, shadow international trade secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said: “The Government’s failure to make adequate time available for a date on this deal is completely unacceptable and it’s a clear breach of promise.
“The truth is that ministers are running away from scrutiny.
“Now, might ministers be running away because of the select committee’s report stating they lack a coherent trade strategy, or might the Government be hiding from scrutiny because of the chaos at the department itself?”
Conservative MP Alicia Kearns said: “There is much to commend this deal. But many of us made assurances to our farmers and food producers there would be a debate following promises from the despatch box.”