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UK Parliament - Political update

The first post-Brexit trade deal negotiated by the UK faced criticism from MPs on both sides of the House of Commons yesterday (14 November), including a stinging rebuke from a former Conservative minister.

The Times reports that George Eustice – a former environment minister and a supporter of Brexit – said that former prime minister and international trade secretary Liz Truss had prioritised speed ahead of getting a good deal.

First ‘from scratch’ deal

As part of the CRaG review process, Parliament scrutinised both of the UK’s trade agreements with New Zealand and Australia. Greg Hands, a junior minister with the Department for International Trade (DIT), introduced the session.

“The Australia and New Zealand free trade agreements are deals that will deliver for people, businesses and our economy. These are our first ‘from scratch’ free trade agreements since we left the EU, and they are deals of which this country can be proud,” he told the chamber.

The Chelsea and Fulham MP noted that the trading relationship with both countries supported over 100,000 jobs collectively. The BBC reports that the government estimated the Australia-UK free trade deal would unlock £10.4bn of additional trade, while ending tariffs on all UK exports.

'Not a very good deal'

However, Eustice attacked the Australia agreement as “not actually a very good deal for the UK” in his response to Hands.

Eustice, who headed up Defra under former PM Boris Johnson, stated that the major achievements of the trade deal – which he said included agricultural safeguards and protection of British sanitary and phytosanitary rules – were negotiated by his agricultural department rather than the Department for International Trade (DIT).

“The truth of the matter is that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return,” he said.


The Camborne and Redruth MP called on the government to not commit to “arbitrary timescales” for trade deals, to transfer agricultural negotiations to Defra from the DIT and to strengthen parliamentary scrutiny.

A DIT source told the Guardian: “George Eustice was a member of the cabinet which collectively agreed this trade deal. If the deal was as bad as he claims, he would never have approved it.”

Farmers’ reaction

According to the FT, president of the National Farmers’ Union Minette Batters had previously described the deal as “one-sided”.

MPs including Labour’s Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Scottish Nationalist Party’s Drew Hendry and independent Jonathan Edwards also criticised the impact of the deal on British farmers and food standards.

A DIT spokesman said: “We have always said that we will not compromise the UK’s high environmental, animal welfare or food safety standards and the deal includes a range of safeguards to support British farmers.”


PM Rishi Sunak’s new administration is already moving away from its predecessors’ approach to trade deal negotiations, according to Politico.

This new approach will involve deeper and slower negotiations, with both a final deal with India and the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership not expected till 2023.

Sunak, a former chancellor and banker, is also expected to focus more on financial services in his negotiations with India.