The Trade Bill is about to return to the House of Commons after its latest visit to the House of Lords, and once again there is an amendment relating to trade agreements and genocide. Once again, I intend to vote against it.

Britain has a long and proud record of standing up for human rights, both at home and overseas. It is right that these considerations should be at the forefront of our thoughts when embarking upon free trade agreements, but I am wary of the solutions put forward in Lord Alton's amendments. 

The amendment due for consideration is a modification of its previous incarnation, which would have empowered the High Court, in effect, to overturn the decision of democratically-elected MPs. From the Supreme Court's decision on prorogation in 2019 we have seen the problems that can arise when courts impinge upon the political domain. The spirit of the amendment is laudable, but it is not sensible to create a fresh problem which would also act as an unwelcome precedent of further judicial interference in the political sphere.

Setting up the High Court to determine whether a genocide is taking place would also be an abrogation of responsibility on Parliament's part. The Government and Parliamentarians should be mindful of the situation, rather than waiting for judges to tell them what it is. It is up to Parliament to decide when sanctions take place, and with which countries we negotiate. The electorate can then pass judgement on the Government and individual MPs come the next election. Unelected judges cannot be held accountable for their actions.

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I also have sufficient faith and confidence in my colleagues in Government, in the Commons and in the Lords that any trade negotiations would be halted, if even started, with any country involved in human rights violations approaching genocide. One of the greatest flaws with this amendment's approach is that relies on MPs and Peers believing that they would not have the awareness or self-confidence to prevent or halt trade negotiations with countries involved in the most serious human rights abuses. Parliamentarians should trust themselves more, rather than outsourcing these decisions to unaccountable external bodies or inventing new procedures to bind their own hands.

There is no doubt that many colleagues are approaching the amendments to the Trade Bill with China in mind, especially in light of the unacceptable human rights abuses taking place in Xinjiang for which there is now a firm body of evidence. However, passing the amendment will not change this situation, since the UK does not have a free trade agreement with China. Given the bad relationship that currently exists between our two countries, particularly over Hong Kong, there is no realistic prospect of a trade agreement being struck in the foreseeable future. The same is true of other countries which are also sometimes mentioned in relation to this legislation, such as Russia, Iran and North Korea. 

The amendment tomorrow makes clear that what happens after a High Court determination that genocide is taking place would be for Parliament to decide. This is an improvement on its previous position, but it will still place enormous political pressure on the Government to act according to the court's decision. Any Government that disagreed with a High Court determination would have to use up an enormous amount of political capital. 

This may not be a problem with clear-cut cases, but it is not difficult to see how well-organised lobby groups could use our courts for their own ends. Trade with countries such as Turkey, Israel or Saudi Arabia may suddenly come under threat, and this may not be in our long-term interests as a country. Certainly these are decisions for elected MPs, and not for unelected judges.

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