Trade secretary Kemi Badenoch has taken a swipe at ex-PMs Boris Johnson and Liz Truss for setting public deadlines in trade negotiations.
Badenoch told a Westminster committee today that public deadlines, like Johnson’s missed October targert for a UK-India trade deal, “can be incredibly unhelpful” and create “an incentive for more concessions” by British negotiators.
Johnson repeatedly promised a “deal by Diwali” with India, while Truss confirmed this target when she entered Number 10 in September.
There have also been recent claims by former environment secretary George Eustice that the UK-Australia trade deal was rushed to get an agreement by last year’s G7 summit in Cornwall.
Rishi Sunak has said he does not want to rush trade deals and instead wants negotiators to take more time to secure enhanced international market access for City services firms.
Badenoch told parliament’s International Trade Select Committee that “it’s about the quality, not the speed” of trade deals and that she internally argued against Truss keeping Johnson’s UK-India trade deadline.
“Internally we will know ‘we should be able to get this done by March or September and so on’. But what can happen inadvertently is an internal deadline becoming public, which creates issues when the Prime Minister might have said something and then we need to work to it,” she said.
“Flexibility is the key thing – always being very honest and ensuring even if a deadline has been set, it can be flexible so the other negotiating party doesn’t get the upper hand.”
The government has come under fire in recent weeks for its post-Brexit Australia trade deal, which scraps all tariffs on Australian agricultural exports over the next 15 years.
Eustice said it’s “not actually a very good deal” and that “the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return”.
The UK is continuing its negotiations with New Delhi, while trade talks with the six-country Gulf Cooperation Council began earlier this year.
However, Badenoch has said she will focus more on increasing export opportunities for British firms as trade secretary instead of signing quick deals.