The UK’s flagship post-Brexit trade deal with Australia is “not actually a very good deal”, former environment secretary George Eustice has said.
In highly critical comments, Eustice called for the resignation of Crawford Falconer, the interim permanent secretary for the Department for International Trade, telling the Commons Falconer “resented” people who understood technical trade issues better than him.
Eustice, a supporter of Brexit, said since leaving his job in September he no longer had to put “a positive gloss” on the deal.
“The first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK,” he told MPs. “It wasn’t for lack of trying on my part. Indeed, there were things that we achieved: a special agricultural safeguard for years 10 to 15, staged liberalisation across the first decade, the protection of British sovereignty in SPS [sanitary and phytosanitary] issues.
“It’s no surprise that many of these areas were areas negotiated either exclusively or predominantly by Defra on behalf of the UK team.
“But it has to be said that, overall the truth of the matter is that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return.”
Eustice insisted on having always been a “huge fan” of the British civil service, but added: “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.”
Eustice said 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”.
He also pointed the finger of blame at Liz Truss, then trade secretary, for having set “arbitrary targets” for the conclusion of a deal.
At the time in 2021, Boris Johnson, then prime minister, hailed the deal as “global Britain at its best” but environmental groups warned it would be catastrophic for the environment.
Responding to Eustice, a source at the Department for International Trade, which is now overseen by Kemi Badenoch, said: “George Eustice was a member of the cabinet which collectively agreed this trade deal. If the deal was as bad as he claims, he would never have approved it.”