Government’s trade agenda torn apart by Soubry, Cable & Umunna in new report

A new report launched today (Wednesday) sets out the bleak prospects Britain would face in trying to secure its own international trade deals outside the Customs Union and Europe’s economic area.  

With less than a week to go before crucial votes in the House of Commons on the Government’s Withdrawal Bill the report, published by the Open Britain campaign, is a forensic deconstruction of the myth that an isolated, go-it-alone Britain would be able to sign quick or easy trade deals.


Trade-Offs: The Harsh Reality of Going-it-Alone as ‘Global Britain’ shows how the UK would be forced to surrender to the demands of a protectionist US president or the strategic interests of powerful new economies like China and India to secure even a fraction of the advantages it currently enjoys as a member of the European Union. 

The report will be launched by the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable, Conservative MP Anna Soubry, and Labour MP Chuka Umunna, all of whom have held frontbench posts covering business and trade, at 10:30am at an event at One Great George Street in central London (details below). They will argue that at the very least Britain should seek to stay in Europe’s economic area and the Customs Union if it wants to maintain its position as a global trading nation.

They will also suggest that the prospect of deadlock and further turmoil over these issues will only strengthen growing demands for a People’s Vote on any Brexit deal.

The paper argues that the Government hasn’t begun to explain to the public what some of the trade-offs and difficulties will be if Britain goes it alone on trade, including:

  • Both China and the US have a long-standing reluctance to open up their services sectors, which is likely to limit the benefits of any deal for the UK.
  • Expanding tariff-rate quotas and reducing tariffs may make for cheaper goods, but will be bad for UK producers. For example, the report points out that a deal with New Zealand would be devastating for Welsh and Cumbrian hill farming.
  • American and Australian negotiators will put great pressure on the government to change its agricultural standards, including on chlorine-washed chicken, hormone-injected beef, GM crops, banned additives and low-quality milk.
  • A key demand from Indian and Australian negotiators will be for the UK to grant their citizens more visas.


Anna Soubry MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, is expected to say:

The Government is committed to frictionless trade and no hard border in Northern Ireland but still hasn't come up with a plan to deliver both. The Cabinet is deeply divided and so has turned to Parliament for guidance.

“There is a way to protect our prosperity and peace in Northern Ireland. It includes a Customs Union with the EU. That means we will continue to play a critical part in forging new free trade deals with other countries.

“It's a fallacy that we're better off out chasing unicorn deals on our own and that's recognised by the Government. Its own assessments show even if we got a deal with every available country it wouldn't make good the harm we will do by walking out of the Customs Union and putting up custom barriers with the EU.”


Vince Cable MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, is expected to say:

“Trade negotiations are nasty, brutish and long, and they generally involve large trade-offs. Whether it is lowering our standards or granting more visas, Ministers have made no attempt whatsoever to explain to the public what the implications might be.

“The notion that a raft of new deals can be done swiftly or bring overall benefit to the UK economy has now been exposed as a fantasy. And with President Trump imposing swingeing tariffs on our steel, the delusion that his administration will come to our rescue can shortly now be laid to rest.”


Chuka Umunna MP, leading supporter of Open Britain, is expected to say:

“Empty rhetoric from the Government about ‘Global Britain’ is no longer good enough. We need action to protect our trade and our economy.

“Labour should not be parroting Tory Brexiter’s excuses for not committing to keep the UK in the European Economic Area, in addition to the EU Customs Union. Next week crucial votes will take place on our future relationship with the European Union and they offer the chance to defeat a hard Brexit once-and-for-all.

“I know a growing number of my colleagues on the Labour backbenches are determined to use this opportunity to promote social justice, protect our trade, jobs and investment, and to safeguard peace and stability in Ireland, by backing all the Lords’ amendments.  I sincerely hope the Labour leadership will whip us to oppose the Government, which is what our members and the overwhelming majority of our voters expect.”


In a joint foreword to the report, the MPs write:

“We risk damaging our trade with Europe to pursue trade talks with third countries, only to find that the terms on offer from those countries are unacceptable, or largely unbeneficial.

“It simply does not make sense for this great country – which, let’s be clear, already is ‘global Britain’ – to pursue a course that we know will damage our economy and the life chances of generations to come.”



Notes to editors