I fully understand your support for the amendment and I share your concern over human rights abuses in countries around the world including in China. The crimes perpetrated against the Uyghur people and the Chinese population more widely are well-documented. I condemn them absolutely.
As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, the UK has a role in bringing perpetrators of the crime to justice. The UK has long promoted human rights and Ministers have been clear that increased trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights. Trade agreements also often contain suspensive clauses in the event of human rights abuses.
While I supported the ultimate aim of the amendment, the mechanism it proposed to achieve this would have had significant legal consequences. It would have altered the UK constitutional system by allowing courts to frustrate trade agreements agreed by the Government and ratified by Parliament. The amendment would also have established a profound shift in the separation of powers between the judiciary and the executive. The Trade Bill itself also only focuses on continuity agreements rather than new trade agreements and the amendment was defeated by 319 to 308 votes.
Strong economic relations with countries around the world gives the UK the opportunity to have frank discussions on difficult issues. While China is an important economic partner to the UK, there are no plans to negotiate a free trade agreement with the country. The Government’s priorities are instead focused on countries with economies more similar to the UK’s such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand.