Blog: Boris Johnson and Liz Truss gave Britain a rushed, botched Brexit. Now we’re all paying for it – iNews

Not by any stretch of the imagination could George Eustice be described as a Remainer, let alone a “remoaner”. A farmer from Cornwall, a former Ukip candidate who cut his political teeth alongside Dominic Cummings in fighting Britain’s adoption of the euro, his Brexiteer credentials are impeccable.

So when the former Environment Secretary highlights the deep flaw in Liz Truss’s trade deal with Australia – the first agreed after Brexit – plenty of people in his party and outside it ought to sit up and take notice.

Speaking in a long-overdue Commons debate on the deal, Eustice quietly but skillfully filleted Truss’s boasts of success. Declaring it “is not actually a very good deal for the UK” and claiming the Government “gave away far too much for far too little in return”, his concerns echo those of farmers fearing a flood of cheap meat imports with lower environmental standards.

It seems that Rishi Sunak certainly has been listening. Asked at the G20 summit about Eustice’s remarks, he preferred to focus on the future but essentially agreed with the criticism. “Going forward, I want to make sure that we don’t sacrifice quality for speed when it comes to trade deals,” he said.

Sunak himself had flagged the dangers of Truss’s deals (with New Zealand as well as Australia) during the Tory leadership race this summer. At one hustings in Devon, he claimed her deals were “one-sided” and the UK “shouldn’t be rushing to sign trade deals as quickly as possible”.

Truss had bragged that those deals she struck as International Trade Secretary were in fact evidence of her ability to “deliver”. Yet, as many in her party have realised since then, there’s no point delivering something that turns out to be a dog’s dinner.

Truss’s fondness for rushing things to give the impression of activity was in many ways her undoing. Even allies say that if she had prepared the ground for a 45p tax cut and other tax cuts further down the road, and had come up with a fiscal rebalancing plan first, she may have survived. Instead, her “shock and awe” mini-Budget spooked the markets, voters and MPs.

But Eustice’s withering description of Truss’s lack of negotiating nous, revealing she actually asked her Australian counterpart “what he needed” to do a deal before last year’s G7 summit, laid bare that she wasn’t alone in her culpability.

Wanting to get a deal done by the arbitrary deadline of the Carbis Bay meeting in the summer of 2021 was down to Boris Johnson too. As a result, as Eustice put it, “the Australian negotiator very kindly set out the Australian terms, which then shaped eventually the deal”. In their desperation to get a shiny Brexit “achievement”, Truss and Johnson rolled over like puppies and the Aussies couldn’t quite believe it.

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And the whole saga exposes the wider issue of precipitative policy making post-Brexit. To use Sunak’s own phrase, the UK sacrificed quality for speed. It’s an issue that stems right back to Theresa May, was continued by Johnson and found its apotheosis in Truss.

Most people think May’s biggest error was calling a snap election that cost her a Parliamentary majority. Yet her real blunder was in October 2016 when she hastily triggered Article 50, the EU process that set the clock ticking on a two-year deadline after which the UK would quit without a deal.

Like Truss, May was a former Remainer keen to win from her party some Brexit brownie points. But in firing the starting gun without first working out the shape of the deal she wanted, the former PM failed to understand what a massive negotiating advantage she’d handed to Brussels. Former UK EU official Sir Ivan Rogers warned her against it, but she carried on regardless. The snap election only added to the weakness as it created a hung Parliament.

Even after May’s demise, Johnson too fell foul of the desire to get a deal, any deal, over the line. For pro-Union Tories as much as the DUP, his “oven ready” deal with the EU has proved utterly half-baked on the issue of Northern Ireland.

Marry in haste and repent at leisure, the old saying goes. Yet when it comes to Brexit, divorcing in haste may be why so many people are now repenting – and without pleasure. As pollster John Curtice points out, Brexit is “now probably less popular than it has been at any point since June 2016”.

Even Chancellor Jeremy Hunt admitted this weekend: “I don’t deny there are costs to a decision like Brexit,” before saying there are also opportunities. Hunt also said: “What I don’t accept is the premise that Brexit will make us poorer,” but the Office for Budget Responsibility which he lauds on other matters says that’s exactly what is happening: a 4 per cent hit to GDP.

There are signs that some common sense is finally arriving. While Truss’s desperation for deals smacked of the zealotry of a convert (a flaw from which two-Telegraph-columns Johnson also suffered), Sunak was always a true believer. As a result, he doesn’t display any of the try-hard tendencies of his predecessors.

Whereas Johnson was desperate for a trade deal with India by Diwali last month, plenty of wiser heads in Whitehall know such deadlines weaken your hand. Sunak is taking a much more hard-headed approach to that deal and to the trans-Pacific CPTPP trade pact.

With even Truss admitting as PM that any trade deal with the US was now probably for the “medium term” at the earliest, the whole issue lays bare just how much – or little – clout the UK has on the global stage now that it is standing alone. With no political party talking about rejoining the EU in the near future, some honesty about life outside it is to be welcomed.

More importantly, all the chatter about the rushed, “one-sided” nature of the Australia deal should make more people realise the rushed, one-sided nature of Johnson’s UK-EU deal too. The EU boosted its own services sector, especially financial services. UK exports of goods to the EU are harder, while we unilaterally relax some rules on imports. Level playing field, it ain’t.

Sunak is right to show strategic patience on not sacrificing quality for speed. But a really big prize for Britain would be to focus on perhaps the most important trade deal of all – with the EU. And as every year passes, the botched Brexit deal is hitting our prosperity.

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