Brexit: Human rights must form ‘key component of future trade deals’, says Commons report

Ashley Cowburn
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef welcomes British Prime Minister Theresa May in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia: Reuters

Human rights must form a key component of any future trade deals after Britain’s exit from the European Union, a Commons committee has concluded.

In a report MPs on the Joint Committee on Human Rights in Westminster say that the EU currently includes clauses on human rights in its international trade deals with non-EU member states and the UK must use Brexit as an opportunity to set higher standards.

It comes as Theresa May continued her charm-offensive in the Middle East, visiting Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for talks in Riyadh to boost trade and security ties despite the regime’s dire record on human rights.

The Prime Minister has faced repeated calls to suspend UK arms deal with the kingdom over claims of human rights abuses in the Yemen conflict under the Saudi-led coalition bombing campaign.

The report from the Human Rights Committee adds: “We welcome the Government’s commitment that new bilateral trade agreements will include human rights protection at least equal to those currently included in EU trade agreements. We look forward to seeing this adhered to and will monitor progress with interest.

“We encourage the Government to use the opportunity of Brexit to set higher human rights standards in future trade agreements, to include workable provisions on enforcement, and to undertake human rights impact assessments before agreeing trade agreements.”

The report claims that Government departments must set an example to businesses in the UK by ensuring they do not procure from suppliers who are abusing workers’ human rights. It says the National Action Plan – the UK’s statement of intent on human rights – must be more ambitious and set specific target by which to measure progress.

“If the Government expects businesses to take human rights issues in their supply chains seriously, it must demonstrate at least the same level of commitment in its own procurement supply chains,” the report adds.

The 82-page report calls on officials to introduce stronger legislation, stronger enforcement and clearer routes to justice to protect workers’ human rights.

MPs on the committee add that the Government’s so-called Great Repeal Bill, which will convert EU law onto the UK’s statue book before Britain’s exit from the union, must replicate the human rights provisions enshrined in EU law.

Harriet Harman, the Labour MP who chairs the committee, said: “No one wants to be wearing clothes made by child labour, or slave labour. UK companies need to have high standards abroad as well as here at home and they must ensure that there are not human rights abuses in their supply chain.

“More can be done by the UK Government to ensure that human rights are respected by UK companies in their operations outside the UK. The Government must toughen up the law with a new legal duty on businesses abroad.

“Victims of human rights abuses must have access to the courts. And the Government should ensure that when it buys on our behalf it doesn’t do so from suppliers who are abusing human rights.”

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