The UK’s departure from the European Union means cutting deals with as many countries as possible is a foreign policy imperative.
The sometimes-derided experts who warned Brexit would damage our economy were, unfortunately, quite correct and that means the UK goes into negotiations with other countries in an already weak position. And, with the whole world suffering as a result of the Covid pandemic, everyone will be looking for the best deal.
Truss’s remarks came as the UK government revealed it was pushing to remove a five per cent tariff on exports of Scotch whisky in trade talks with Australia. It also hopes the deal will boost the service sector, low-carbon technology, digital trade, financial services, food and drink, and manufacturing.
And while it is unlikely the UK can get trade deals on better overall terms than the EU, given the disparity in the size of the two economies, it is possible our negotiators will be able to secure agreements with a greater focus on the UK’s particular priorities.
However, it is important not to get too carried away by the UK government’s spin on the talks. They are presumably confident they will secure the five per cent tariff cut on whisky, but if Australian negotiators have given them the nod, then we can be sure that Britain’s will have done likewise. The question to ask is, what are we giving them in return?
The British fishing industry thought it got a raw deal in EU talks over the years and has complained about getting a raw deal since Brexit. That’s partly because fishing is more important economically to the EU than the UK.
Concerns about the Australia trade deal include the prospect of the UK being flooded with cheap meat. Scottish Crofting Federation chair Donald MacKinnon has warned that “unbridled access to our markets for Australia’s, and possibly New Zealand’s, meat” would be “catastrophic for crofting and hill production”.
But it is a simple fact that the UK has to give other countries something they want if a trade deal is to be struck.
So smaller sectors should beware. They may be about to discover they are Brexit’s sacrificial lambs.