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UK Government accused of breaching international law over trade deals

The UK Government is facing a legal action over its failure to give the public a say on post-Brexit trade deals, despite the risks they pose to the environment. The latest legal challenge comes the day before the UK government will break its own pledge and push the UK-Australia deal through Parliament with no debate.

Orchard. Credit: Pexels

Orchard. Credit: Pexels

The legal action challenges the UK Government’s failure to give the public a say on post-Brexit trade deals – despite the risks they pose to the environment – which they say is a breach of international environmental law.

The coalition, including Sustain, WWF, Green Alliance, Compassion in World Farming, Trade Justice Movement, Soil Association and Tenant Farmers’ Association, has said that existing arrangements for public scrutiny of new trade deals are inadequate, putting the UK Government in breach of the Aarhus Convention – an international agreement that sets out an obligation to ensure public consultation on decisions by the government or public sector that will impact on the environment.   

The group has now filed a formal complaint to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee which will consider whether the UK Government is in breach of international law.    If so, the committee has the power to make recommendations to ensure the UK public have a say in future negotiations.

The legal challenge comes a day before the UK Government breaks its own pledge and pushes a new trade agreement with Australia through Parliament with no debate.

Katie White, Executive Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at WWF, said:    “People don’t want the food on their plates to fuel the climate and nature crises. Yet  behind closed doors the UK Government has cut trade deals with Australia, an environmental laggard, opening our shores to imports without adequate safeguards for climate and nature.   “It’s totally unacceptable that the public and Parliament have been denied a say on these trade agreements when their consequences will be felt for generations to come – full scrutiny is essential if we are to avoid a deal by default. 

“To live up to the climate and nature promises in their manifesto, the new Prime Minister and their government must guarantee meaningful public consultation on all future trade deals and set core environmental standards for all food sold in the UK, to ensure the UK’s transition to sustainable farming isn’t undermined by imports driving nature loss overseas.”  

Kath Dalmeny, CEO of Sustain added: “The Government has failed to set a trade policy, failed to consult the public and failed to give Parliament enough time to consider the UK-Australia trade deal. Involving parliament and the public in the trade deal scrutiny process should be seen as a strength, not a weakness. Multiple sets of advisers and select committees have told the Government they should set core food, environment and animal welfare standards for imports, which we would urge them to do as quickly as possible.”  


Although the public was consulted on the objectives prior to the launch of trade negotiations, this was several years before final terms were agreed, with no opportunities for public consultation in the interim, and no guaranteed opportunity for debate or a vote in Parliament.    The organisations bringing forward the legal challenge will make the case that this amounts to a failure to comply with the Aarhus Convention, which requires opportunity for public participation “at an appropriate stage, and while options are still open”.   

You can read the Guardian coverage of the story here


Published Monday 18 July 2022

Good Food Trade Campaign: Campaigning for good trade that benefits people and the planet at home and overseas.

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