THE Tory Government has been defeated for a second time in the House of Lords on a key amendment to its Brexit Trade Bill.

The legislation enables the UK to forge new commercial ties with countries after leaving the EU.

But arguing the case for Parliament to have a bigger role, Tory former cabinet minister Lord Lansley proposed a further amendment that would require ministers to publish draft negotiating objectives for a trade agreement, which would need to be approved by MPs.

The consent of Scotland and other devolved administrations would also have to be sought, and a parliamentary debate guaranteed on the final deal.

The Lords backed Lord Lansley’s amendment by 304 votes to 260, with a majority of 44.

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The Trade Bill will now return to the House of Commons, where MPs will vote to accept or reject the amendments made by the House of Lords.

Proposing his amendment, Lord Lansley said: “The Government is now moving ahead with negotiations on new trade deals not just continuity agreements.

“It does mean that now is the time and this is the legislative opportunity to strengthen Parliament’s role.”

He added: “What this amendment now does is it ensures that the Government consults the devolved administrations and given the breadth of trade issues who could seriously argue they should not and that they take the Commons with them on their objectives?

He said: “We have not had the responsibility for scrutiny of trade agreements for over 40 years. They are a new and substantial responsibility and Parliament must have its say.”

He argued the existing scrutiny procedure was “insufficient to carry the weight of the trade deals in prospect”.

“It has to be strengthened,” said Lord Lansley.

He went on: “This is not a party issue but a parliamentary issue. Give Parliament its say.”

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We Own It - the campaign for public ownership of public services - has been campaigning for 18 months to protect the NHS from trade deals and ensure that trade deals aren’t signed in secret.

We Own It campaigner Johnbosco Nwogbo said MPs should be able to vote on areas of trade policy as it is "a basic principle of transparency".

He added: “It is fantastic to see the House of Lords once again standing up and saying clearly that we must not allow trade deals to be signed in secret. It’s a basic principle of transparency and of democracy that elected representatives should be able to scrutinise and vote on major areas of policy – including international trade agreements. 

“Without this amendment being written into the Bill, we could see our NHS carved up and sold off behind closed doors without parliament or the public knowing about it, and being powerless to stop it. It’s now time for MPs to do the right thing and back this amendment too, so that parliament can ensure that our NHS is not on the table in a trade deal with the USA or any other country.”

Earlier, investment minister Lord Grimstone of Boscobel urged peers not to seek to make further changes to the bill following its return from the Commons.

He said: “We must be mindful… of the role of this House within Parliament. We are not the democratically elected House and we do not express the will of the people in the same way as the Commons.

“Our primary role is to scrutinise and where appropriate to ask the Commons to reconsider. They have done this and so we should think long and hard before disregarding their clear pronouncements.”

Opposing the changes sought by Lord Lansley, he said: “Of course it is only right and proper now that we have left the EU that Parliament should have powers to effectively scrutinise the Government’s ambitious free trade agreement programme.

“However, this amendment does have significant deficiencies that we believe are inappropriate for our Westminster style of Government and would limit the Government’s ability to negotiate the best deals for the UK.”

He pointed out the Government had “significantly enhanced its transparency and scrutiny arrangements”.

If Parliament was not satisfied with a negotiated trade deal it already could effectively block ratification, he added.

It comes as Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) said today that regulatory animal-based food checks have been suspended at Belfast and Larne ports.

It follows council staff at Larne Port being withdrawn from inspection duties over concerns for their safety and welfare amid threatening loyalist behaviour.

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A Daera spokesperson said: “On the basis of information received today and pending further discussions with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland), Daera has decided in the interests of the wellbeing of staff to temporarily suspend physical inspections of products of animal origin at Larne and Belfast.

“The situation will be kept under review and in the meantime full documentary checks will continue to be carried out as usual.”

Twelve Mid and East Antrim Borough Council staff assisting officials from Daera and UK Border Force with checks at the port were withdrawn from their duties with immediate effect on Monday.

The council said the decision was made following an “upsurge in sinister and menacing behaviour in recent weeks”.

Graffiti appeared in the area last month referencing tensions about the Northern Ireland Protocol and describing port staff as “targets”.