Keir Starmer 'playing political game' with covid says Holden
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The party refuses to “believe in Britain’s potential” to strike out as an independent trading nation and is shunning the new opportunities voting to leave has opened up around the world. Mr Hands spoke out after Emily Thornberry questioned whether it makes “any sense” to put “all this energy” into securing international deals. Five years after the British people instructed the government to quit the EU, the shadow international trade secretary said the bloc would still be Labour’s biggest trade priority in Government.
Mr Hands said despite Sir Keir Starmer’s claim that Labour has accepted Brexit and moved on, its “top team continues to focus on old divides”.
He added: “It beggars belief that Labour’s trade chief says we shouldn’t waste energy on trade deals with the rest of the world and instead focus on the EU – who we already have a trade deal with.
“It shows that even now, Starmer’s Labour refuse to believe in Britain’s potential to forge new trade and jobs with our allies across the world and instead continue to focus only on trade with the EU.”
The government struck a trade deal with the EU on Christmas Eve last year.
But Ms Thornberry, one of Labour’s most ardent Remainers, said her “biggest priority” was to “fix the big trade deal with the European Union”.
“I think that in terms of priorities on trade deals, I would begin with trying to repair the trade deal that we already have with the European Union,” she added.
“I think really our priority should be that, rather than spending time trying to score smaller trade deals that make very little difference.”
Ms Thornberry told an event at the Institute for Government that the focus would be on the EU rather than other deals, such as entry to the £9trillion Pacific free trade bloc.
The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is made up of 11 countries, including Australia, Canada and Japan.
Ms Thornberry said: “Does it make any sense to put all this energy into, for example, UK membership of CPTPP, and so little energy, by comparison, into fixing the holes in our deal with Europe?”
The Department for International Trade (DIT) was set up in the weeks after the 2016 vote to leave to strike deals across the world once Britain was free of the EU.
But it is not responsible for negotiations with Brussels.
Exports Minister Graham Stuart pointed out it would “certainly mean there wasn’t a lot of activity at DIT” if Ms Thornberry was running the department.
On January 1 as Britain threw off EU rules, 68 “rollover” deals with countries that Britain traded with under terms struck during its membership of the bloc, came into force along with the new agreement struck with Brussels. They are worth a total of £744billion.
Liz Truss has struck an agreement in principle with Australia that is expected to push up trade by 30 percent by 2030.
The International Trade Secretary has also started negotiations to join the CPTPP.
UK exports to its nations are set to increase by £37billion by 2030 and the deal would increase that by at least £3.3billion, although the figure is expected to be much higher as firms take full advantage of the changes in the fast growing economies.
A spokesman for Ms Thornberry said: “According to Liz Truss’s own forecasts, joining the CPTPP will produce a total increase of £3.3billion in trade for the UK, which is equivalent to one third of our annual trade with Luxembourg.
“So if we want to boost growth and jobs in the UK, we should absolutely be looking to sign as many new trade deals as possible around the world, but simple maths says our first priority should be fixing the problems facing British firms who do half of their trade with Europe.”
It comes as the UK agreed a new partnership with the south-east Asian countries.
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Britain will become a “dialogue partner” of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which means it has high-level access to the bloc’s summits.
The government hopes it will increase practical cooperation on issues like climate change and regional stability.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the closer relationship with the 10-member bloc was a “landmark moment” for the UK.
Mr Raab said: “I am delighted that the UK has, today, formally become a dialogue partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations bloc – the first new country in 25 years.
“This is a landmark moment in the UK’s tilt towards the Indo-Pacific.
“Our closer ties with Asean will help create green jobs, reinforce our security cooperation, promote tech and science partnerships, and safeguard key pillars of international law like the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”
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