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LibDem councillor accuses MP of misleading statements and failing to protect constituents' interests

July 25, 2020 11:23 AM
By Cllr Hugh Ashton - Garrick Ward of Lichfield City Council
Hugh Ashton

Cllr Hugh Ashton

Lichfield City Councillor Hugh Ashton - Garrick Road ward (Liberal Democrat) writes:

I recently wrote to Mr Michael Fabricant, MP for Lichfield, regarding the protection of the National Health Service from American capital and influence. On 13 July, he replied to me courteously and at some length, but the reply seems to have been very largely a cut and paste from a template, presumably circulated to all Conservative MPs who had been contacted by constituents on this issue.

The vote on the Trade Bill and proposed amendments and New Clauses was taken on 20 July, one week after I received Mr Fabricant's reply.

In this reply, he said:

The Government has made a clear and absolute commitment that the NHS will not be on the table in any future trade agreements to which the UK is party, something I fully support. New Clause 17 actually added nothing to these existing protections, and hence was neither a useful nor productive addition to the Bill.

Given this government's history of U-turns on previously held "clear and absolute positions", it may be reasonably argued that legal protection is something that is essential to protect British assets such as the NHS. We are already aware of some UK-US negotiations regarding American access to some areas of the NHS. Additionally, even if Britain's health service does remain ringfenced against American influence and ownership, there remains the risk, highlighted by the British Medical Association, that investor protection provisions might allow US investors to claim compensation for lost access to the UK health "market".

Even so, Mr Fabricant voted against the proposed New Clause 17.

Let us now turn to New Clause 11, which would have barred any food imports unless they were produced with "as high as, or higher than, standards which at the time of import applied under UK law".

As Mr Fabricant pointed out:

trade agreements cannot by themselves make changes to our domestic law.

This is very true, but if the law is changed prior to a trade agreement, following pressure from the other party of the agreement as a condition of that agreement being ratified, the argument is invalid.

The reason given by the government for rejection of this clause was that there is a promise to maintain and protect current standards. How they will reconcile this protection with the US demands to allow hormone- and antibiotic-stuffed beef and pork raised in appalling conditions, chickens bred and processed with such a low standard of hygiene that the carcasses must be washed in a chlorinated solution, and the introduction of genetically modified foodstuffs (which might well mean the death of any food exports to the EU from the UK), I do not know. Another U-turn in the making, perhaps?

Even so, Mr Fabricant voted against the proposed New Clause 11.

And then there was New Clause 4, put forward by a Conservative MP, which would have given Parliament the power of veto and oversight over any trade deals. In his reply to me, Mr Fabricant said:

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. … 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 [my emphasis].

Note that a trade deal which did not require legislative changes (such as, to take a non-random example, the sale of an NHS service to a US-based corporation as a key part of a trade deal) would be exempt from oversight were this clause not to be adopted. Again, without such protection, with its 78-seat majority the government could introduce seemingly innocuous legislative changes which actually form the conditions for a trade deal that is disadvantageous to the people of the United Kingdom, while benefitting a privileged few in this country and overseas.

Even so, Mr Fabricant voted against the proposed New Clause 4.

I find his whole reply to me (or to be more accurate, that of the government's PR department) to be disingenuous at best and misleading at worst. By voting away his right to protect us against potentially harmful trade deals which might lower our quality of life, I feel that Mr Fabricant is failing in his duty to represent the best interests of his Lichfield constituents.