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221115 | Cornish MP admits to backing bad trade deal for UK

Cornish MP admits to backing bad trade deal for UK

Olivier Vergnault

A Cornish MP has admitted to making a bad deal for Britain and British farmers when in government. George Eustice, the MP for Camborne and Redruth, told the House of Commons that the UK's free trade deal signed with Australia post-Brexit was "not actually a very good deal for the UK".

As revealed by the BBC, the former Secretary of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs told a Commons debate that the first post- Brexit deal negotiated from scratch gave too much away to the Aussies for what Britain will receive in return. Mr Eustice, who lost his Boris Johnson's Cabinet job under Liz Truss's extremely short tenure at 10 Downing Street, said that now he is a backbencher he "no longer has to put such a positive gloss on what was agreed".

The Cornish Tory MP, who helped secure the agreement, savaged Ms Truss saying Britain rolled over for the Australian after the then trade secretary Ms Truss "shattered" the UK's negotiation. At the time, the government estimated the Australia-UK Free Trade Agreement, signed on December 17, 2021, would unlock £10.4bn of additional trade while ending tariffs on all UK exports.

 

The deal includes giving Australia full access to the UK market to sell beef and sheep, while Australia still bans the import of British beef
"The first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK

 

 

The deal also removed some visa rules. Young people are now able to work and travel in Australia for up to three years. UK architects, scientists, researchers, lawyers and accountants can also access work visas without being subject to Australia's skilled occupation list. George Eustice told the Commons that overall the UK "gave away far too much for far too little in return".

He told the House: "Since I now enjoy the freedom of the back benches, I no longer have to put such a positive gloss on what was agreed. Unless we recognise the failures the Department for International Trade made during the Australia negotiations, we will not be able to learn the lessons for future negotiations.

"The first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK, which was not for lack of trying on my part."

The deal includes giving Australia or New Zealand full access to the UK market to sell beef and sheep, while Australia still bans the import of British beef. It will reduce extra costs and taxes on exports and imports between the two countries.

The deal was criticised by the National Farmers Union as bad for British beef and lamb farmers. In his Commons speech, Mr Eustice added: "Overall, the truth of the matter is that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return. We did not actually need to give Australia nor New Zealand full liberalisation of beef and sheep. It was not in our economic interests to do so. And neither Australia nor New Zealand had anything to offer in return for such a grand concession.

"The UK went into this negotiation holding the strongest hand, the best cards, but at some point in early summer 2021, the then trade secretary took a decision to set an arbitrary target to conclude it by G7 Summit (which was held in Cornwall in June 2021). From that moment we were on the back foot. At one point the then trade secretary asked her opposite number from Australia what he would need in order to conclude an agreement by G7 and of course he then set out his terms which eventually shaped the deal. We must never repeat that mistake."

He said the UK needed to learn from these "failures" and move responsibility for negotiations on agriculture and food to Defra. At the end of Mr Eustice speech, newly appointed junior trade minister Andrew Bowie hit back at the former Cabinet minister saying: "I am afraid I have to take issue and defend officials in the Department for International Trade, all of whom, without exception, are dedicated to bettering the trading relationship for this country and all of whom, without exception, have this country's best interests at heart and are working day and night for this country.

"I should also point out that Australian and New Zealand beef and lamb suppliers are already working hard to satisfy demand from booming Asia and Pacific markets on their doorstep and New Zealand already has a significant volume of tariff-free access for lamb to the UK market, but used less than half of this quota in 2020."

He told the House: "Since I now enjoy the freedom of the back benches, I no longer have to put such a positive gloss on what was agreed. Unless we recognise the failures the Department for International Trade made during the Australia negotiations, we will not be able to learn the lessons for future negotiations.

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour's Shadow International Trade Secretary, told Sky News : "It is clear that the Conservative Government's trade policy is in utter disarray. Even George Eustice, a Cabinet member when the Australia Trade Deal was negotiated, has now agreed that 'the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return'.

"He is right to condemn this Government's approach. On trade the Conservatives have no strategy and they are - badly - letting down the UK, which will cost jobs, investment and growth."

George Eustice told the Commons that overall the UK "gave away far too much for far too little in return".

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