Former Minister Admits UK's Post-Brexit Trade Deal With Australia Is 'Not Very Good'

Sydney Harbour Bridge
Sydney Harbour Bridge

Sydney Harbour Bridge

Former environment secretary George Eustice has admitted the UK’s post-Brexit trade deal with Australia is “not very good” in a barely disguised attack on Liz Truss’s time as international trade secretary.

Eustice served in the cabinet under Boris Johnson, but was sent to the backbenches when Truss became prime minister.

Speaking during a general debate on the Australia and New Zealand deals in the Commons, Eustice said he is enjoying “the freedom of the backbenches”, particularly as “I no longer have to put such a positive gloss on what was agreed”.

Eustice blamed Truss, who served as international trade secretary from 2019 until 2021, for setting an arbitrary target.

He warned that “unless we recognise the failures that the Department for International Trade made during the Australia negotiations, we won’t be able to learn the lessons for future negotiations”.

The first step, he said, is “to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK”, adding: “It wasn’t for lack of trying on my part.”

Eustice went on: “The UK went into this negotiation holding the strongest hand, holding all of the best cards, but at some point in early summer 2021, the then trade secretary (Truss) took a decision to set an arbitrary target to conclude heads of terms by the time of the G7 summit, and from that moment the UK was on the back foot repeatedly.

“In fact, at one point that then trade secretary asked her opposite number from Australia what he would need in order to be able to conclude an agreement by G7, and of course the Australian negotiator very kindly set out the Australian terms, which then shaped eventually the deal.”

Truss became notorious for the photoshoots during her overseas trips when trying to forge new trading partnerships. Perhaps the most infamous came when she posed with a Union Jack umbrella atop a London-made Brompton bicycle in front of Australia’s iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. “Get on your bike and look for exports,” Truss tweeted.

Eustice also has called for the resignation of the interim permanent secretary for the Department for International Trade, Crawford Falconer, after telling the Commons he “resented” people who understood technical trade issues better than he did.

The ex-cabinet minister said Falconer’s approach during the negotiations was to “internalise” Australian demands even if they were against UK interests, and that his advice was “invariably to retreat and make fresh concessions”.

Eustice insisted on having always been a “huge fan” of the British civil service, but added: “I do want to make comment about personnel within the Department for International Trade, because Crawford Falconer, who is currently the interim permanent secretary, is not fit for that position, in my experience.

“His approach always was to internalise Australian demands, often when they were against UK interests, his advice was invariably to retreat and make fresh concessions and all the while he resented people who understood technical issues greater than he did.

“He has now done that job for several years. I think it would be a good opportunity for him to move on and to get a different type of negotiator in place, somebody who understands British interests better than I think he’s been able to.”

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