The federal government is now not planning to make use of its Brexit commerce offers to unfold and implement human rights around the globe, a leaked letter from the worldwide commerce secretary has revealed.
Writing to MPs Anne-Marie Trevelyan mentioned human rights can be stored out of commerce talks and that she believed “free commerce agreements should not usually the simplest or focused instrument to advance human rights points”.
The dramatic change in strategy comes because the UK tries to signal a take care of Gulf international locations together with Saudi Arabian, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates – all famend for his or her poor human rights data.
In October final 12 months Ms Trevelyan instructed the Home of Commons that commerce “is not going to come on the expense of human rights” and that talks on free commerce agreements would create an “alternative to open discussions” on such points.
And as early as October 2020 Liz Truss, who is predicted to turn out to be prime minister subsequent month, gave a landmark speech by which she mentioned the UK’s “values-driven” commerce coverage can be used to “unfold our elementary values” like human rights around the globe.
However cracks have began to seem within the strategy and in June this 12 months MPs raised considerations after the federal government quietly dropped “human rights” and “rule of regulation” from an inventory of proposed targets in commerce deal talks with the Gulf Cooperation Council.
This week the worldwide commerce secretary wrote again to the MPs and spelled out a really totally different coverage from the one the federal government has beforehand advocated for.
“The UK is a number one advocate for human rights around the globe and the federal government stays dedicated to the promotion of common human rights,” she mentioned within the letter dated 23 August and seen by The Unbiased.
“The Overseas, Commonwealth and Growth Workplace leads this effort inside the UK Authorities. That is undertaken individually to negotiations on free commerce agreements.
“Whereas elements of commerce coverage can present the chance to deal with different points in bilateral relationships, free commerce agreements should not usually the simplest or focused instrument to advance human rights points.”
The revelation provoked an indignant response from human rights campaigners, who mentioned ditching the safety from free commerce offers would give succour to autocrats.
“This response by the Commerce Secretary confirms our greatest fears that human rights is not going to even be paid lip service within the upcoming commerce settlement with the Gulf,” mentioned Sayed Ahmed Alwadaei, director of advocacy on the Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy.
“The federal government shamelessly refuses to incorporate even a point out of human rights of their commerce deal, regardless of coping with a few of the most abusive states on the planet.
“The underside line is Gulf dictators shall be confidently reassured that in the case of enterprise with the UK, human rights shall be left utterly off the desk.”
Peter Frankental, Amnesty Worldwide UK’s financial affairs director, mentioned the federal government was “sending a horrible message to different international locations” about “how little the UK seems to worth human rights and freedoms when commerce offers are at stake”.
“Any notion that commerce can by some means be cordoned off from human rights points ignores the grubby actuality that multinational firms all too usually revenue from lax labour legal guidelines, circumstances amounting to trendy slavery, and widespread environmental hurt,” he mentioned.
“As soon as once more, we seem to have a commerce coverage which runs counter to the UK’s acknowledged international coverage objectives of championing openness and free speech, decreasing battle and environmental degradation, and ending trendy types of slavery.”
Many free commerce agreements around the globe, such because the one the UK signed with the EU, embrace provisions to make sure international locations holding primary requirements of human rights – with formal clauses to make them legally enforceable.
As nicely their moral dimension, the clauses are additionally meant to verify international locations can’t undercut one another by violating rights and exploitation – as an example with de facto slave labour.
But, the UK is determined to signal agreements with international locations around the globe as an example what it says are the advantages of leaving the EU customs union – and human rights are a sore-point for some international locations Britain desires to do offers with.
Final 12 months, when he was international secretary, Dominic Raab instructed officers that “proscribing” commerce due to decrease human rights requirements would imply “we’re not going to do many commerce offers with the expansion markets of the longer term”.
The shift in authorities coverage is stark when in comparison with statements by ministers earlier on of their quest free of charge commerce agreements. In October 2020 then commerce secretary Liz Truss gave a landmark Chatham Home speech titled “[Britain’s] imaginative and prescient for values-driven free commerce”.
She mentioned Britain was “studying from the dual errors of values-free globalisation and protectionism” and “as a substitute rooting our strategy for world free commerce in our values of sovereignty, democracy, the rule of regulation and a fierce dedication to excessive requirements”.
“In charge of our buying and selling future, we’ll work with like-minded democracies to help freedom, human rights and the atmosphere whereas boosting enterprise by reducing boundaries to commerce,” she mentioned.
“The UK didn’t go away the European Union to have one other nation’s values thrust upon it. We help the correct of globalisation, primarily based on shared values as we assist lead the struggle free of charge markets, free societies, human rights and a greener world.”
Ms Truss, who’s on the right track to turn out to be prime minister in lower than two weeks, mentioned within the speech that “the values driving our newly impartial commerce coverage are well-known”.
“Our buddies understand how strongly freedom has delivered and pushed the UK’s nationwide story, whether or not they assume again to the historic development of human rights beneath Magna Carta, the abolition of the slave commerce or the event of free market economics,” she mentioned on the time.
“The British individuals care deeply about equity, decency and liberty. We will finest unfold our elementary values – freedom, democracy, human rights and defending our pure atmosphere for the longer term – by working with our family and friends internationally.”
Whilst lately as October 2021 commerce coverage appeared to not less than pay lip service to human rights as a key a part of commerce negotiations. Requested by Labour MP Cat Smith “what latest discussions she has had with UK commerce companions on inserting clauses on human rights into future commerce offers”, Ms Trevelyan mentioned:
“The Authorities are clear that extra commerce is not going to come on the expense of human rights. The UK will proceed to indicate world management in encouraging all states to uphold worldwide rights obligations and to carry to account those that violate these rights. By having stronger financial relationships with companions, we have now the chance to open discussions on a spread of points.”
Answering one other query from Tory MP Peter Bone about whether or not free commerce agreements may assist enhance human rights in provide chains, she mentioned: “It will be significant that we be sure that not solely that we use the ability of commerce to construct relationships, as I mentioned, however to present our companies that need to work globally by means of provide chains the perfect instruments and protections that they could want to make sure that they’ve authority with international locations the place the development of the place of the supply-chain workforce and, certainly, the safety of different human rights is vital.”
Requested to touch upon Ms Trevelyan’s leaked letter, a authorities spokesperson mentioned: “The UK is a number one advocate for human rights around the globe, and the Overseas, Commonwealth and Growth Workplace leads this effort inside the UK authorities.
“We are going to proceed to encourage all states to uphold worldwide human rights obligations, and maintain those that violate or abuse them to account.”
However Sarah Olney, the Liberal Democrats enterprise spokesperson mentioned it was “crystal clear how little regard this Conservative Authorities holds for the respect of human rights on the worldwide stage”.
“After failing to ensure British requirements on animal welfare and environmental safety within the FTA with Australia, the Authorities at the moment are sinking even decrease and are set to finalise a commerce take care of Gulf Cooperation Council international locations that seems to make no reference to their abysmal report on human rights”.
She added that there ought to be “a set of minimal requirements for benchmarking future commerce agreements; to incorporate human rights, battle and oppression, environmental, labour and security requirements”.