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Source: Labour List UK

© UK Parliament / Jessica Taylor

Ed Miliband has accused the government of “trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes to pretend no deal doesn’t mean no deal” after the Prime Minister told the country to prepare for an “Australia-style” relationship with the European Union.

Commenting on the prospect of a ‘no-deal’ exit from the European bloc, the Shadow Business Secretary this morning warned that leaving without a comprehensive trade deal would have “serious economic consequences”.

His intervention today comes after government minister Alok Sharma was forced to admit during an LBC interview that an Australia-style plan is code for a no-deal outcome. He told listeners that it was a matter of “semantics”.

Reacting to the Business Secretary’s comments, Miliband said: “A ‘no deal’ might just be semantics for Alok Sharma, but it’s not semantics for the manufacturers, farmers and many businesses across the country who have been clear that it could have serious economic consequences for them.

“The government is trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes to pretend no deal doesn’t mean no deal. The Business Secretary should be listening to businesses and pulling out all the stops to deliver the deal ministers promised was oven ready, not dismissing their concerns.”

Australia does not have a free-trade deal with the EU, although they are in negotiations, and the two sides currently operate largely on World Trade Organisation rules with significant tariffs applied to imports and exports.

The country does have a number of bespoke agreements in place with the EU on certain areas, such as an agreement on the transfer of EU passenger name records to Australian border authorities to help combat crime and terrorism.

In the event of a failure of negotiations between the government and the EU, the UK would have fewer arrangements in place than Australia, which has prompted some commentators to challenge the accuracy of Boris Johnson’s comments.

Asked in his LBC interview what Johnson’s recent comments meant, Sharma conceded: “The Australia deal is the deal that you have with countries where you are predominately working on a WTO [World Trade Organisation] basis.”

Pressed on whether the use of the ‘Australia-style’ phrasing was just another term for a no-deal exit from the European trading bloc, thee Business Secretary admitted: “It’s a question of semantics at the end of the day, sure.

“There are two very clear approaches to this: we can either go down the route of doing the sort of arrangement that the EU has with Australia, the other is that we can do it down the Canada route. Now that has been our preference.”

The EU has a trade deal with Canada, called the comprehensive economic and trade agreement (CETA). The arrangement includes reducing tariffs, or taxes, on imports and the amount of a product that can be exported without extra charges.

The UK and the EU have both claimed previously to be trying to negotiate a better deal than the CETA, with a “zero tariff, zero quota” agreement accepted by both sides by the close of the transmission period at the end of the year.

MIL OSI United Kingdom