Theresa May's "copy and paste" Brexit trade plan welcomed by business but mocked by opponents

Catherine Neilan
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"Liam Fox might as well be left in a room with a photocopier." (Source: Getty)

Theresa May's plan for a "copy and paste" approach to deals when the country leaves the European Union has been welcomed by a leading business group - despite being mocked by political opponents.

The Prime Minister, who is currently in Japan attempting to pave the way for future trade deals, told reporters she would kick-start trade after Brexit by transposing existing deals signed as part of the EU, saying this would provide confidence for businesses.

"When we leave the European Union, there's obviously a number of trade deals that the EU has with other countries and we are looking at the possibility of those being able to be brought over into trade deals with the United Kingdom," she said.

May stressed this would be a starting point, and that amendments would be made as and when they were required.

“Even if we start on the basis of an existing trade deal that a country has with the EU, it will be up to the United Kingdom and that country if we wish to renegotiate and change those terms in the future,” she said.

“The important thing is that outside of the European Union the UK will have the control and we’ll make the decisions about who we have those trade deals with and what the terms of those trade deals are.”

Anastassia Beliakova, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), said this would be of great benefit to business:

“It is very important that the UK government rolls over the trade agreements with third countries that we currently benefit from as members of the EU – making sure that we keep trading with these countries on preferential terms.

“This is important not only for UK businesses, but also for the many subsidiaries of EU and non-EU companies that are based in the UK, and trade around the world.”

However, her comments have been seized upon by Brexit opponents as "absurd".

Labour MP Ben Bradshaw said: “Leave campaigners like Boris Johnson told us that a global Britain needed to leave the EU to sign new and better trade deals but it turns out the best the government is aiming for is to copy and paste deals we already have through our membership of the EU.

“The government’s position is absurd. They are pulling out of the Customs Union, which will damage our economy, in order to sign trade deals which will be no better – and could easily be worse – than the ones we have now.

“Ministers have to stop putting their faith in imaginary future deals, and focus on securing trade with the EU, our biggest economic partner. That means continued membership of the customs union and the single market.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable added: "Rather than jet-setting around the globe, Liam Fox might as well be left in a room with a photocopier. The government's Brexit strategy now defies all logic. It is not even asking Japan for a bespoke trade deal.

"India has already told us they won't give us one. The government should not be surprised if China says the same."

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