ormer Environment Secretary George Eustice has said that Britain’s post-Brexit trade deal with Australia is “not actually a very good deal for the UK”.
The former Cabinet minister, a Brexiteer, accused the Department of International Trade (DIT) and then trade minister Liz Truss of “failures” during talks with Canberra and warned that officials would need to “learn lessons” for future trade negotiations.
The Government claimed that the trade agreement, signed between the two countries in December 2021, would allow unprecedented access to the Australian market for British services and investors. It was the first trade deal struck from scratch by the UK since leaving the European Union and was hailed as a “landmark moment” by former trade minister Anne Marie Trevelyan.
But Mr Eustice told MPs in the House of Commons on Monday that the UK had “given away far too much for far too little in return” during talks.
“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 (Liz 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,” he said.
“In fact, at one point the 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.”
Mr Eustice said that the “best thing” that current trade minister Kemi Badenoch could do is to instruct Crawford Falconer, the UK’s chief trade negotiator and interim permanent secretary at the DiT, to “get the right agreement” even if it “takes a decade”.
“We are not ever again going to put ourselves in such a position of setting the clock against us and shattering our own negotiating position,” he added.
It marks a significant change of position from Mr Eustice, who told the Commons in June 2021 that Australia was “an important ally and this is a good agreement between us”.
Mr Eustice, MP for Camborne and Redruth, served as Environment Secretary from February 2020 to September 2022. He is no longer in the Cabinet after being dismissed by Ms Truss earlier in September.