COMMONS

Liam Fox bows to Committee pressure and agrees for Trade Remedies Authority Chief Executive to be questioned

15 January 2019

After repeated calls from the International Trade Committee, Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox has agreed that Claire Bassett, former Chief Executive of the Electoral Commission and recently appointed Chief Executive Designate of the Government’s new Trade Remedies Authority (TRA), will give evidence to the Committee on Wednesday 16 January. 

The Committee has today also published the latest letter in a string of correspondence between the Committee Chair, Angus MacNeil MP, and the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox MP, relating to this matter.

The Department for International Trade had previously turned down the Committee’s request for Ms Bassett to appear before the Committee on Wednesday, with the Secretary of State stating last week that it would be more appropriate for her, and the new Chair Designate, Sir David Wright, to give evidence once the TRA is legally established – despite the Department having already been authorised to spend up to 8.9 million in setting up the new Authority, which will be responsible for investigating unfair trading practices that harm UK businesses. The Secretary of State stated that waiting for the TRA to be legally established would provide the Committee with “the right opportunity to engage with the TRA Chair and Chief Executive once they are in post”.

Last week, the Committee learned that Ms Bassett has been in post since earlier this month. The Committee Chair, Angus MacNeil, therefore wrote to the Secretary of State setting out his expectation that she appear before the Committee on Wednesday, in light of this information. In a letter received yesterday afternoon, the Secretary of State indicated that Ms Bassett would attend, alongside a senior DIT official. 

Chair's comments

Commenting on the Secretary of State’s change of position, the Chair of the International Trade Committee Angus Brendan MacNeil said:

“The fact that It has taken three letters to persuade Liam Fox to accept a simple request from my Committee – to take evidence from the Head of the new Authority that will have a key role in protecting British industry after March 2019 – illustrates a worrying lack of integrity from the Department for International Trade. This has not been a good start to what I want to be a constructive relationship with the Chief Executive of the TRA, and I hope it does not set a precedent for my Committee’s future dealings with the Authority.

“Of course, my Committee has a range of important questions to ask Ms Bassett, the TRA’s new Chief Executive – particularly around the preparedness of the Authority for a range of Brexit scenarios. The TRA is going to have a big job on its hands if we face a no-deal Brexit on 29 March 2019, and we want to hear whether it is ready for that. However, the fact that the Authority is still yet to be formally established, due to the Government not having provided the time for the Trade Bill to complete its passage through Parliament, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in Government’s readiness for no-deal.

“It would have been incredibly valuable to hear from Sir David Wright, the new Chair of the TRA, alongside Ms Bassett at this session. My Committee hopes to hear from him very soon – not at the eleventh hour, when it may prove too late for any issues we identify with TRA preparedness to be resolved. An unprepared TRA means vulnerable British businesses, and we want assurances from the TRA leadership that they will be doing everything they can to avoid that.”

Further information

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