Lord Whitty (Labour) has proposed a motion to regret the agreement on the basis that, while it differs significantly from the precursor EU-Switzerland agreements, it does not make adequate provision for trade in services.
If agreed, the motion to regret will not stop the treaty, but will provide an opportunity for the House to put its opinion on record.
UK-Switzerland trade agreement
The UK-Switzerland trade agreement can take effect when EU-Switzerland trade-related agreements no longer apply to the UK as a result of Brexit. This may be at the end of an implementation period as part of a withdrawal agreement or if the UK leaves the EU without a deal.
On 13 March, the Lords EU Committee published a report drawing the UK-Switzerland trade agreement to the attention of the House, because of its importance and significant differences to current EU-Switzerland arrangements. While the agreement mostly supports trade in goods, the majority of UK-Swiss trade is in services. The committee expressed disappointment that, in bringing forward this agreement, the government did not set out its plans for future UK-Swiss services trade.
Lords scrutiny of treaties
Treaties are international agreements entered into by the UK with one or more countries. Treaties are negotiated, signed and ratified by the government under 'prerogative powers', but Parliament has an important role.
Section 20 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 states that, with some exceptions, the government may not ratify a treaty unless it has first laid a copy before Parliament, and, within 21 sitting days of this happening, neither House has passed a resolution that the treaty should not be ratified. A resolution passed by the Lords is advisory. A Commons resolution would prevent the government from proceeding for another 21 sitting days.
The Lords EU Committee does 'due diligence' on all Brexit-related treaties, those being rolled over to replace agreements in which the UK currently participates as an EU member. Where it identifies issues, the committee draws treaties to the special attention of the House.
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