UK Politics

Brexit: Ministers publish post-EU trade legislation

Containers being loaded at Tilbury docks Image copyright AFP

Details of the government's post-Brexit trade policy have been published.

Ministers say the Trade Bill includes provisions for the UK to implement existing EU trade agreements and help ensure firms can still access foreign government contracts worth £1.3tn.

It will also create a new trade remedies body to defend UK businesses against injurious trade practices.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said firms needed "as much stability as possible" on the day the UK leaves.

But Labour questioned why the bill was being published on the day Parliament rises for a week-long recess, suggesting ministers wanted to "minimise scrutiny".

And unions said workers' rights must not be sacrificed on the altar of doing "dodgy deals" with countries with insufficient employment protections.

The UK cannot sign or negotiate trade deals before its scheduled departure from the EU in March 2019. However, ministers say they can "scope" out future deals with key trade partners, such as the US, Australia and New Zealand.

Despite its publication, the Trade Bill, one of nine pieces of new legislation in the pipeline to prepare the ground for Brexit, will not be debated by MPs until a later date.

Mr Fox said the point of the bill was to "provide as much stability as possible" for businesses on the day Britain leaves the EU and to prevent market instability.

But looking beyond that, the UK wanted to negotiate "more liberal" trade agreements to "provide even better market access than we have through our EU membership".

"One of our worries is that global trade is not opening up," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme, and the UK wanted to "use its influence to get a more liberal global trading system" once it had left the EU.


But TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said the "ramshackle bill" offered no protection for workers' rights and for public services like the NHS from foreign contractors.

"The Trade Bill must guarantee that the price of entry to a trade deal involving Britain is signing up to the strongest protections for workers and public services," she said.

On the eve of the bill's publication, one of Donald Trump's leading allies said he was optimistic that the UK and US will sign a free trade deal after Brexit.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told the BBC there had already been a "joint scoping exercise" in Washington in July on a free trade agreement and another similar meeting will be held in London next week.

"We're huge trading partners with each other and our economies are in many ways more similar to each other than either of us is to most of Europe," he said.

"So there's all the logic in the world for the US and the UK to be not only good trading partners, but FTA partners," he said.

Mr Ross, who met Theresa May and other senior ministers during a two-day visit, identified continued "passporting" of financial services, compliance with EU food standards on GM crops and chlorine-washed chicken and future trade tariffs as areas that could pose problems in negotiations between the nations.

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