The race to become PM – what each Conservative candidate has said about trade

Mon 11 Jul 2022
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

UK Government Race to Be Prime Minister International Trade

The Conservative Party’s search for a replacement for Boris Johnson is picking up steam, with almost a dozen confirmed candidates and several more waiting in the wings.

In anticipation of the first round of voting, the IOE&IT Daily Update looks at each confirmed candidate’s position on Brexit, the Northern Ireland Protocol and other important trade policies.

Liz Truss

Foreign secretary Liz Truss took over leading the UK’s negotiations with the EU at the start of the year from Lord David Frost, having previously led talks for the UK’s post-Brexit free trade agreements with non-EU markets as the head of the Department for International Trade.

She recently introduced the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill as a way to fix the “practical problems” with post-Brexit rules for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and to safeguard the Good Friday Agreement.

She voted for the UK to stay in the EU in the 2016 referendum but has since shifted to become an enthusiastic supporter of Brexit's benefits.

As a cheerleader for Global Britain she has taken an active role in promoting the view that the country can benefit from looking beyond the EU for new trading partners.

Rishi Sunak

The Belfast Telegraph reports that Sunak clashed with foreign secretary Liz Truss while in cabinet over the Protocol Bill, expressing concerns that the plan to unilaterally modify parts of the arrangement would spark an economically damaging trade dispute.

The former chancellor voted for the UK to leave the EU in 2016 and has almost always voted for pro-Brexit policies in parliament, according to

The ex-hedge fund manager has portrayed Brexit as an opportunity for the City to be free of EU regulation, allowing it to operate on a more global stage. On goods trade, he told a select committee in March that it was “inevitable” that flows would be affected by Brexit, but said that over time trade would increase with other parts of the world.

Nadhim Zahawi

While serving as business minister, Zahawi said he was “absolutely committed” to the Protocol.

A supporter of Brexit, Zahawi has said: “Thanks to Brexit, we are now a free nation. Let’s not just talk about the opportunities that follow, let’s take them.”

As education secretary he lauded the importance of UK’s education exports, which were worth £25.2bn in 2019.

Tom Tugendhat

The former soldier told LBC that the NI Protocol “has to change” and that with “somebody who wasn’t Boris Johnson in No 10 the mood music of our relations with the EU would change and we could legally negotiate some proper changes”.

He backed David Cameron’s call for a vote on EU membership but voted remain. Thereafter he has called for economic cooperation with the EU but has ruled out re-joining the single market, which he said would hinder future trade deals.

Launching his leadership bid, he has called for a clean start, including dropping “un-conservative tariffs, that push up prices for consumers”.

Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, he proposed a 10-year plan for growth and said it would involve a “race to the top, not a race to the bottom,” adding that steel tariffs would only apply to those products not made in the UK and where they were made in similar conditions to the UK.

Penny Mordaunt

Another candidate with a military background as a naval reservist, Mordaunt is considered to be more moderate on the Protocol issue, reports the Belfast Telegraph.

However, as a trade minister she has criticised the EU’s approach to trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, calling it “seriously unbalanced”. She supported Brexit in 2016.

Mordaunt has worked hard behind the scenes to lay the groundwork for state level deals in the US that the UK has pursued in the absence of a wider bilateral agreement.

Sajid Javid

When standing in the last Tory leadership election, Javid was criticised for a faux pas in which he described Ireland as “the tail that wags the dog” on Brexit.

He backed remaining in the EU in 2016 but like others swung behind the Brexit project in government.

He voted against the government’s Internal Market Bill in 2020, saying, “It is not clear to me why it is necessary for the UK to break international law”. He did vote to approve the NI Protocol Bill at its second reading, however.

Grant Shapps

Shapps voted to remain in the EU in the referendum, but has since described himself as a “Brexit moderate” on Twitter when rejecting the idea of a customs union.

According to the website TheyWorkForYou, the MP for Welwyn Hatfield has “generally voted against EU integration,” and the transport secretary voted in favour of the NI Protocol Bill on its second reading.

During his time as transport secretary, he has announced plans to bolster the supply chain and freight industry by recruiting and retaining more logistics workers.

Suella Braverman

As the government’s chief legal adviser, Braverman approved the government’s legislation to override the NI Protocol as reported in Reuters. In a tweet today (11 July), she promised to stop the flow of “dynamic EU law” into the UK as well as to “improve” the current NI Protocol Bill.

Braverman has long been a staunch supporter of Brexit, according to iNews, and previously chaired the European Research Group – a eurosceptic grouping of Conservative MPs.

The MP for Fareham had previously resigned from a junior ministerial position in protest over Theresa May’s proposed “Northern Ireland Backstop”, according to The DailyEcho.

Jeremy Hunt

Hunt has confirmed he supports changes to the NI Protocol in an interview with LBC, saying “I think we have to be very clear with the EU that no British prime minister could allow a situation where we don’t have an internal market, where businesses from England can export freely to businesses in Northern Ireland.”

He voted “remain” in the 2016 Referendum, although he recently expressed regret at doing so according to the Independent.

He also said that “Brexit freedoms” must be embraced in order to make Britain a “powerhouse” economy. Hunt has pledged to make Tatton MP Esther McVey – a vocal proponent of Brexit – his deputy PM if he wins, according to The Telegraph.

Kemi Badenoch

In an interview with the Evening Standard, Badenoch confirmed she had voted to leave the European Union before entering Parliament.

In her announcement confirming her candidacy in The Times, the Saffron Waldon MP described her vote for Brexit “as a vote of confidence in our abilities as a sovereign country,” and called for a “new mission for our age.”

Previously, Badenoch served as exchequer secretary to the treasury; a role which included responsibilities for regional economic development, supervising the work of the office of national statistics and other aspects of the economy.

Rehman Chishti

In 2020, Chishti resigned as a special envoy on religious expression over the Internal Market Bill, which gave ministers the power to unilaterally change parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement according to the Guardian. He voted in favour of the NI Protocol Bill on the second reading.

According to his website, the Gillingham and Rainham MP announced in May 2016 he would be voting to leave the European Union.