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THE government is set to attend court tomorrow over what campaigners argue was an “utterly undemocratic” decision to heavily redact documents from post-Brexit trade talks.
The documents, which include minutes from talks with the United States, were released to campaign group Global Justice Now in 2019 under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, but were almost entirely redacted.
Leaked copies of the same papers were famously held up during the 2019 general election campaign by then Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said they were proof that the NHS was “on the table” during several years of negotiations with the US.
A two-day tribunal hearing, which begins tomorrow, will now decide whether the Department for International Trade (DIT) was right to officially withhold information under exemptions in the FOI Act.
The government claims that the notes qualified for such action as they could prejudice international relations or the development of government policies.
But campaigners argue that the information was in the public interest and that exempting it from full scrutiny would give the government cover to sign away people’s rights.
Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden said: “Trade deals sign entire countries up to a litany of rules and regulations that impact our daily lives.
“From the NHS to workers’ rights to environmental protections, everything can be up for grabs in trade negotiations.
“It’s utterly undemocratic to shroud these negotiations in secrecy. People have a right to know if their rights, their food standards or their public services are being sold off.
“This isn’t just about the US trade deal. We are forging new post-Brexit trade deals across the world. We can’t just hand the Department for International Trade a ‘get out of jail free’ card in these negotiations when so much is at stake.”
The case, which is set to conclude tomorrow, comes after a previous tribunal ruled in favour of the government. Global Justice Now is appealing the decision on the basis that the tribunal made a “legal error” when considering public interest factors.
The case raises “important points of legal principle” on how the public interest is weighed under FOI law, according to the group’s lawyers Leigh Day.
The DIT said it would not be making a comment while the legal proceedings are ongoing.
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