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Brexit: MPs warn UK government against overselling benefits of trade deals

Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson. Since Brexit, the UK has signed three trade agreements with Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Photo: John Sibley/POOL/AFP via Getty
Britain's prime minister Boris Johnson. Since Brexit, the UK has signed three trade agreements with Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. Photo: John Sibley/AFP via Getty

The UK government has been warned against overselling the benefits of trade deals after Britain left the European Union's single market and customs union.

Since Brexit, The UK has been working to secure a number of trade agreements, signing three new deals following its departure.

This includes a digital trade agreement with Singapore in February, which came into force last month. And a free-trade deal with Australia December last year and New Zealand in February 2022 – both of these are not yet in force.

MPs on the International Trade Committee (ITC) on Wednesday published a landmark report on the UK’s trade deal with Australia.

In it, the cross-party committee called for a full assessment of the winners and losers across all economic sectors and nations of the UK.

The MPs point out that lifting nearly all tariffs (import taxes) on agricultural imports is a significant change, and potentially sets an important precedent for deals with major food-exporting nations.

While the government has sought to cushion negative impacts on Britain's agriculture sector with phase-in arrangements, the committee highlights farmers’ worries that these protections are not adequate.

Read more: UK urged to remember financial crash lessons in post-Brexit reform

Angus Brendan MacNeil MP, chair of the ICT, said: "The government must level with the public – this trade deal will not have the transformative effects Ministers would like to claim.

"The government’s own impact assessment shows an increase in GDP of just 0.08% as a result of the deal, and the balance of gains and losses varies between economic sectors and nations of the UK.

"We have also found multiple examples where the government’s flat-footed negotiating has led to significant concessions being given to the Australians without securing all possible benefits in return.

"For example, the government has increased access for food produced to lower standards than would be legal in the UK, yet did not secure geographical protections for iconic British goods, such as Melton Mowbray pork pies or Scotch whisky. This means there is nothing preventing UK goods from being impersonated 'down under'.

“As the first wholly new trade deal since Brexit, this agreement sets a precedent for the future. It is vital that the government learns from this experience and negotiates harder next time around to maximise gains and minimise losses for all economic sectors and parts of the UK."

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