Implementation of international trade agreements

Part of Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 25th June 2020.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade) 11:45 am, 25th June 2020

Let me chide my hon. Friend for his negativity. We were told at the last general election that an oven-ready Brexit deal would come before us, with a wonderful new free trade agreement, easy to sign, with the European Union. Presumably the scepticism that I have allowed to creep into my remarks about whether the roll-over agreements will be signed by 31 December are entirely unreasonable, and the Minister will say that all the other 20, even the one with Andorra, will be done by 31 December.

I know that the South Koreans want to start completely fresh talks in about 18 months’ time, but surely that will not take five years, or 10 years to complete—or will it? I am an optimist. I take the Minister at his word. He has repeatedly said that roll-over agreements will be simply a matter of rolling over the EU agreements into UK agreements, changing some tiny details, and that they will all be done on time. One wonders, then, why we need the flexibility set out in subsection (7).

Let us remember when the previous Trade Bill was prepared and developed. It probably happened at around the time Mrs May took over as Prime Minister. Members of the Committee will remember that she decided to sack George Osborne, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, for gross incompetence. One can imagine that the Cabinet Secretary got on the phone to the permanent secretary at the Department for International Trade and said, “There’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news is that the man who introduced austerity, destroyed our economy and damaged public services has finally left the Government. The bad news is that one of his chief cheerleaders is moving into your Department. Whatever you do, given the way in which they have messed up the economy, don’t let them mess up trade agreements. Write into the Bill a bit of extra time—five or 10 years, or perhaps even longer—so that we can get these trade agreements done.” The Minister may not share my assessment of how this provision got written into the Bill.