Liam Fox's Department 'an affront to democracy'

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Liam Fox’s Department for International Trade has been condemned by campaigners for failing to meet the minimum requirements of open government. As the official quarterly freedom of information statistics were released, campaigners at Global Justice Now said the department had become “an affront to democracy” after fully answering only 23 per cent of all freedom of information requests it received, and entirely rejecting 69 per cent of such questions.
 
The statistics revealed that over the last reported quarter (July – September 2018) the Department for International Trade:

  • Answered only 23 per cent of freedom of information requests in full
  • Withheld 69 per cent in full, a record this quarter for departments of state, and only rivalled by the serious fraud office in the other bodies which are monitored. The average for all these bodies is 39 per cent.
  • Failed to meet the deadline for responses in 17 per cent of cases. The average across all bodies is eight per cent, though the Department has improved on its 34 per cent of missed deadlines last quarter.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: “Liam Fox’s department is an affront to democracy, and these statistics show just how little information, let alone power, the British public has over trade policy. Trade deals today are massive – they affect every one of us. But while Fox flies around the world talking with the US, Saudi Arabia, China, India and many more countries, we are not allowed to know what his plans are for our public services, for the sort of food we eat, or for the price of medicines. It’s just not right that we’re not allowed to know very basic details, including when and where his trade ‘working groups’ are meeting.
 
“We know that some of these freedom of information requests cover life and death issues – like how the government can be sure that the surveillance equipment to repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia and the Philippines aren’t being used to abuse human rights? We asked that question in September, but have still not received an answer. And that’s one of the questions that hasn’t been withheld.
 
“Liam Fox has repeatedly said that transparency is vital in preventing the disaster that happened with US-EU trade deal TTIP, which sparked protest by millions of people across Europe. But for all the many problems of TTIP, it was negotiated under a far more open and transparent set of procedures than Britain’s post-Brexit trade deals will be. Today’s statistics should make us very scared – unless something fundamental changes, after Brexit our future looks like TTIP on steroids.” 

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