If you’re comfortable, settle in with a cup of tea to read a political review of 2022 and get a sense of the work The Institute of Export and International Trade (IOE&IT) has been doing on behalf of its members to engage political stakeholders in a meaningful way.
Setting the Scene: Political Instability at Home and Abroad
2022 has been an exceptional year by any standards. We’ve seen war in Europe, a global energy crisis, the UK now formally in recession and multiple issues facing businesses and consumers around cost-of-living challenges.
It’s incredible to think that we have had three prime ministers in the space of one year. With the amount of congratulations letters written for successive new cabinet ministers, it’s a wonder my director general hasn’t developed carpal tunnel syndrome from incessant signatures.
The last time the UK experienced three prime ministers in one year was in 1868 (for the political history geeks out there, they were Edward Smith-Stanley, Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone). Thank me later when this comes up in your next pub quiz.
Boris Johnson was relatively safe at the beginning of 2022, although his position spiraled following both the ‘partygate’ lockdown fines and multiple instances of misconduct by members of his government. After a month of ‘will he, won’t he’, he resigned with a final "hasta la vista, baby".
Liz Truss’s trial of her long-held economic philosophy of supply-side reforms did not pay off and culminated in the pound crashing. With her resignation, she became the shortest tenured PM in British history by a comfortable margin.
Recession subsequently hit and the former chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is now holding the reins for what many believe will simply be a ‘caretaker’ position until the next general election.
Having three prime ministers of varying political ideologies has been unquestionably damaging in terms of providing business and trade certainty. Despite being from the same party, even their perspectives on trade varied.
While Johnson and Truss were keen to secure trade deals quickly and make headlines, Sunak has said that he will take the time to get free trade agreements (FTAs) with other nations, prioritizing depth over speed.
Although the year hasn’t been completely smooth sailing for Labour either, they are fighting hard to win over businesses and the public ahead of the next election. Their business day on 8 December 2022, attended by the IOE&ITwas an example of this – with the Labour frontbench taking pains to court industry leaders.
Although FTAs have dominated the headlines throughout much of 2022, the actual signatures of these deals have been few and far between.
Talks with India began in early 2022 but are still unconcluded. Individual memorandums of understanding have been signed with an array of US states, but a US trade deal looks like an unlikely prospect soon.
As I write, it has been 315 days since Northern Ireland had a government. On 3 February 2022, the first minister of Northern Ireland, Paul Givan, resigned.
Although an election was held on 5 May with Sinn Féin emerging as the largest party, the DUP (as the largest unionist party) must nominate a deputy first minister for the Executive under power-sharing rules. But they said they would not do so until their issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol are dealt with.
As the year closes, these issues remain unresolved, and the PM has said not to expect an imminent breakthrough in talks to fix the protocol issues. On 16 December, Sunak emphasised that he has: “not put a strict deadline on the talks … and I don’t want to raise people’s expectations”, adding “what I can tell you is I am very committed to resolving this issue.”
Another buzzword this year, from both Truss and Sunak, has been "freeports".
Only two weeks ago, the UK’s freeports in Plymouth, Solent and Teesside were given final government approval and are expected to generate millions of pounds in investment and thousands of jobs.
On a more practical level, this year also saw the announcement of a switch from the Customs Handling Imports and Exports Freight (CHIEF) platform to the Customs Declaration Service (CDS), with the IOE&IT supporting businesses with the transition and the deadline for switchover now November 2023.
As we end the year, the appointment of new permanent secretary, Gareth Davies, on 14 December will be positive for the Department for International Trade (DIT), as it will ensure stability in inter-departmental conversations across Whitehall.
International trade secretary Kemi Badenoch has said that Davies’s experience will “help the UK win more valuable investment, boost our exports and secure world class trade deals”.
The IOE&IT keeps calm and carries on
Throughout 2022, the IOE&IT has adeptly navigated the fast-changing political landscape, always speaking up for its members and calling for government to provide greater business certainty and economic stability. It has engaged on all levels, from the regional to the national to the international.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict very quickly marred the beginning of 2022. The IOE&IT swung into action within weeks, to host a free, one-hour webinar on how to comply with trade sanctions against Russia. Over 1,400 businesses attended; an incredible number.
From political meetings in Scotland, to a business membership roundtable with the mayor of Greater Manchester, the IOE&IT has remained committed to ensuring we act as a trusted interlocuter on a regional level and provide opportunities for our members across the UK to have direct access to policymakers, as well as providing training and education such as our recent Exporting Starter Pack.
On a national level, in November, we held an IOE&IT Trade Dinner in Parliament with the new Exports Minister, Andrew Bowie, to provide an intimate forum for discussion on the future of trade policy.
Engaging with ministers, shadow ministers, committees, parliamentary groups, trade envoys and individual MPs has been a priority this year and we have been pleased to have regular engagement with political stakeholders across the spectrum.
Before we stop for a Christmas break, the IOE&IT is delighted to be meeting the Welsh secretary this week (19 December). Throughout 2022, we have strengthened our working relationship with the DIT and have run several events in cooperation with them.
The IOE&IT has also looked to be a voice of innovation and creativity in policymaking, releasing a report in International Trade Week in November on “Building a UK Border Fit for the 21st Century". One of the primary suggestions of that report was to create a dedicated minister for the border, responsible for oversight and overall control of border management.
Internationally, our work has taken us across the globe – from hosting a series of events on gender equality in trade at the September World Trade Organization (WTO) Public Forum and additionally sponsoring four SheTrades entrepreneurs to attend, to meetings in the European Commission and setting up a new office in Kenya. The IOE&IT were also thrilled to be chosen for government Ecosystem of Trust pilots between Kenya and the UK and the EU and Immingham.
Throughout this year, IOE&IT has looked to find international relationships and opportunities that could benefit our membership and aid businesses to trade internationally with confidence and efficiency.
What does 2023 hold?
We will continue being a bold and steady voice for our members throughout 2023 and provide them with political engagement forums.
As an early demonstration of this, we are holding an IOE&IT Export Reception on 21 February 2023 in Parliament, for those at the coal face of international trade to meet with policymakers and MPs.
2023 will be another exciting year for the IOE&IT. We will continue to seek out conversations with political stakeholders, and to fly the flag for fairer, more sustainable, and more cost-effective trade solutions for our members.
Merry Christmas and a happy new year.