General Election 2017: May would revive Board of Trade

Theresa May Image copyright Reuters

Theresa May plans to set up a network of nine trade commissioners across the world to boost trade after Brexit.

The Conservative Party said they would be part of a new Board of Trade to help exports and attract foreign investment.

The UK's first Board of Trade has its roots in the 17th Century and through several transformations became the Department of Trade and Industry.

Both Labour and the Liberal Democrats said the prime minister's plan was outdated.

Under the Conservative plans, the trade commissioners would be based "overseas in nine different regions, determined by markets rather than national borders, to ensure UK trade policy is guided by local experience and expertise".

The nine regions were not disclosed.

The Board of Trade would bring together leading business figures and politicians to help lead trade delegations, boost exports and "make sure the benefits and prosperity of Brexit are spread equally across the country".

Mrs May, who plans to take Britain out of the European Union's tariff-free single market, has said Brexit will allow Britain to seek bilateral trade deals with "old friends and new allies".

What is the Board of Trade?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption William of Orange established a body responsible for trade and British colonies

The body traces its roots back to the 17th Century, formally coming into existence in 1696 when King William III appointed eight paid commissioners to promote trade and advise on Britain's colonies.

It was eventually merged with other government departments and stopped meeting regularly in the 19th Century.

The role of president of the Board of Trade, which has been held by major political figures including Winston Churchill and Harold Wilson, was revived by Conservative minister Michael Heseltine in 1992.

The title is currently held by International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, but the board - as originally set up in the 17th Century - is no longer in operation.


Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, said: "There is a world of opportunity out there for the United Kingdom as we leave the European Union, but only Theresa May and the Conservatives have the plan and the ability to get the right deal for Britain."

But Lib Dem shadow first secretary Alistair Carmichael said: "No number of fancy trade commissioners jetting around the world will save us from crippling tariffs when we leave the single market."

He described the plan as pointless.

"If we needed any further proof that the Conservatives have no new ideas, it's this desperate attempt to apply 17th Century solutions to 21st Century challenges.

"This plan is so outdated it's probably been written on parchment by Jacob Rees-Mogg."

Labour has said it would seek tariff-free access to the EU single market after Brexit.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: "Rather than talk up hypothetical trade deals reliant on Boris Johnson's diplomatic skills to negotiate, Labour will focus above all else on securing strong trading arrangements with the EU and delivering the investment for our regions the Tories have failed to make in seven years."

Bill Esterson, Labour's shadow trade minister, tweeted: "Theresa May plans to revive 17th century approach to trade. What next, communication by carrier pigeon?"

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