The Liberal Democrats have launched an attempt in Parliament to block corporations from using secretive tribunals to water down environmental or worker protections, and safeguard human rights and transparency in post-Brexit trade deals.
Liberal Democrat MPs have tabled an amendment to the Trade Bill – which is due to be debated in the House of Commons on Monday – to require the Government to assess each new trade agreement’s impact on citizens’ rights with regard to gender, age, race, class and economic well-being.
With separate amendments, the Party’s MPs will attempt to stop the Government from introducing controversial “investor-state dispute settlements” – better known as ISDS. Through such mechanisms, large overseas corporations can sue the UK if they believe that certain laws, such as environmental or worker protections, harm their interests.
Unlike normal legal disputes, ISDS cases are litigated in opaque private arbitration courts outside the main legal system. The Liberal Democrat amendment would replace such arrangements with either standard UK court proceedings or a transparent multi-lateral tribunal, safeguarding fair treatment for the UK and investors.
Speaking ahead of the debate in the House of Commons on Monday, Liberal Democrat International Trade Spokesperson Sarah Olney said:
“As the UK pursues a new trade policy we must not abandon the values we benefited from as members of the EU: human rights, justice and transparency must be safeguarded despite the Government’s Brexit plans.
“The Government’s approach to trade has woefully neglected these principles. Not only have they offered next to no guarantees on environmental and worker protections, but they even seem intent on giving large multinationals a say over our own rules.
“There’s no hiding from the fact that this is the opposite of ‘taking back control’. That is why Liberal Democrats are fighting for a fair trade policy, that commits us and our partners to the highest standards, and that stands against secretive courts that let foreign companies abuse their power.”
David Lawrence, Senior Political Adviser at the Trade Justice Movement added:
"Human rights and high standards must be at the heart of our future trade policy. The Trade Bill offers an opportunity to enshrine these principles in law.
“MPs should support amendments which require the Government to undertake human rights impact assessments of all trade deals before and after implementation. The bill also offers an opportunity for the UK to free itself from harmful investor court provisions in trade deals.
“These secretive courts have been used by companies to challenge important environmental and social regulations, including minimum wage rises and pollution controls. Removing ISDS clauses from trade deals is essential for ensuring that our new trade policy is good for people and the planet."