Post Brexit trade deals risk to leave human rights out

January 4, 2021

Simon Tisdall – in a strongly-worded opinion piece in the Guardian of 3 January 2021 entitled “‘Global Britain’ is willing to trade away everything. Including scruples” – attacks the UK’s new deal with Turkey which ignores its appalling human rights abuses and should have been scrutinised by parliament

Simon Tisdall
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey’s ‘strongman’ president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has hailed the trade deal with Britain as the start of a ‘new era’. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Sun 3 Jan 2021 07.00 GMT

The UK’s new trade agreement with Turkey, signed last week, ignores the Turkish government’s continuing human rights abuses, boosts its dangerous president, and undermines ministerial pledges that “global Britain” will uphold international laws and values. The deal took effect on 1 January without even rudimentary parliamentary scrutiny. Here, stripped of lies and bombast, is the dawning reality of Boris Johnson’s scruple-free post-Brexit world.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s “strongman” leader, is pleased as punch. He’s the new, biggest fan of Britain’s international trade secretary, Liz Truss, whose shabby work this is. Erdoğan hailed the deal as the start of a “new era” and a landmark for Turkey. After years of disastrous economic mismanagement and fierce rows with the US and EU over Turkish policy towards Russia, Syria, Libya, Greece and Cyprus, Erdoğan badly needed a win. Hapless Truss delivered….

This rushed deal rides roughshod over widely shared human rights concerns. It may be naive to think that the agreement, which replicates existing EU-Turkey arrangements, would allow matters of principle to imperil £18.6bn in two-way trade. Yet Britain is Turkey’s second-largest export market. Ankara was desperate to maintain tariff-free access. This gave Johnson and Truss leverage. It was a sovereign moment. But they failed to demand that Erdoğan change his ways.

…Selahattin Demirtaş, former leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic party, languishes in jail despite an order to free him – from the European court of human rights.

Alive to these and similar problems relating to other post-Brexit trade partners, the House of Lords amended the government’s Trade Bill last month to require human rights risk assessments when making agreements – to ensure compliance with the UK’s international treaties and obligations. But the government is expected to scrap the amendment when the bill returns to the Commons. The Turkey deal contains no such safeguards.

[see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/13/uks-human-rights-policy-after-brexit/]

In its scramble to replace lapsed EU arrangements, Johnson’s government has so far “rolled over” about 30 existing trade deals. Like the Turkey deal, they have not faced thorough parliamentary scrutiny. The list includes other countries or entities with contentious human rights records, such as Egypt, Tunisia, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Bilateral deals with notorious rights abusers such as China and Saudi Arabia have not been attempted – yet…

This lucrative business, or the prospect of losing it, may help explain the haste in finalising the Turkey deal. Yet the fact that Erdoğan stands accused of using British-made equipment and technology to repress domestic opponents, attack Syria’s Kurds, intervene in Libya’s civil war, and stoke the Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict should have given serious pause. These actions run contrary to British interests, as does Erdoğan’s trouble-making in the eastern Mediterranean. Yet Johnson’s government, ever mindful of its Brexit needs, has kept its head down.

Full and timely parliamentary scrutiny of post-Brexit trade deals would help bring such omissions and contradictions to light – but is sadly lacking, as Emily Thornberry, Labour’s shadow trade secretary, said in November. She accused the government of “sheer bumbling incompetence” after Greg Hands, the trade minister, admitted there was not enough time for MPs to scrutinise trade deals before the 31 December deadline. So much for a sovereign parliament “taking back control” of Britain’s destiny and laws.

The Turkey deal illustrates a bigger, fundamental hypocrisy. Extolling a future “global Britain” in 2019, foreign secretary Dominic Raab promised that “once we’ve left the EU … human rights abusers anywhere in the world will face consequences for their actions”. In January 2020, Raab assured the Commons that “a truly global Britain is about more than just international trade and investment … Global Britain is also about continuing to uphold our values of liberal democracy and our heartfelt commitment to the international rule of law.”

Raab seems to mean well, but ne’er-do-wells such as Erdoğan are laughing fit to burst. Raab’s recent imposition of sanctions on individual rights abusers in Russia, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere does not affect the bigger picture. It is of a British government hellbent on cutting hasty, ill-considered deals with all manner of undesirable customers around the world, without proper regard for the political, legal, strategic and human consequences. And to think Tory aristocrats used to look down on trade.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/jan/03/global-britain-is-willing-to-trade-away-everything-including-scruples

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