In 2017, the Secretary of State for Foreign Trade, Liam Fox said his department would replace and replicate 40 trade deals that the EU has with large economies around the world before the UK exits the EU. Today, Chris Leslie asked in an urgent question whether this remains deliverable.
The UK is due to exit the European Union on 29 March 2019.
The Government last week suffered a major defeat of their proposed Withdrawal Agreement and Political Framework, and the current default should Parliament be unable to ratify a treaty with the EU prior to March 29th is a "no deal" exit.
In these circumstances, all trade deals that the UK is currently party to as an EU member would instantly cease to apply. In 2017, Dr Fox spoke confidently of his Department's ability to ensure that 40 trade deals the EU has with major global economies could be replicated in a no deal scenario, but none have so far been signed.
Speaking last week, Dr Fox said he remained "hopeful" that these free trade deals remained possible, if the other countries involved were "willing to put the work in".
Addressing the issue in the House of Commons, Labour's Chris Leslie asked if the Government would uphold the promise made at the Conservative party conference that they would have 40 free trade agreements ready for one second after midnight on March 29 2019. He also asked if the Government could clarify whether current free trade agreements would lapse following the UK's exit from the EU.
The question was responded to by George Hollingbery, Minister of State for Trade Policy. He argued there were a "very wide range of reasons" why setting up new free trade agreements was challenging. He went on to assure the House that he believed the majority of the 40 agreements raised by Chris Leslie would be in place by 29 March 2019.
Image: Creative Commons
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