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Source: Labour List UK

Emily Thornberry has accused ministers of “sheer bumbling incompetence” while challenging the government over its failure to secure necessary continuity agreements facilitating trade with other countries post-Brexit.

Addressing MPs in parliament this afternoon, the Shadow Secretary for International Trade highlighted that, with just six weeks to go until the end of the transition period, 15 agreements worth £80bn of UK trade still need to be signed.

She said: “Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this question on an issue that should never have become urgent. The government has literally had years to protect our free trade with countries like Canada, Singapore and Mexico.”

Thornberry stressed that parliamentary scrutiny will now be curtailed. Under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, international treaties must be laid before parliament 21 sitting days before they can be ratified.

The Shadow Secretary said: “15 agreements that have been left so late that government will now have to ride roughshod over the rules of parliamentary scrutiny to implement them in time… Why do we find ourselves in this sorry mess?”

She challenged the government minister on why 20 agreements were reached in 2019 but only four have been signed this year, and went on to accuse the International Trade Secretary of failing to do her job.

Thornberry highlighted to MPs that Liz Truss failed to appear to discuss international trade this afternoon, sending minister Greg Hands to the Commons to answer the urgent question from Labour in her place.

Thornberry argued: “With sheer bumbling incompetence, and instead of taking responsibility today, the Secretary of State has sent her minister instead – a fitting symbol of her total failure to grasp this issue during her 16 months in office.”

The Shadow International Trade Secretary asked the minister what new steps the government is taking to ensure the deals are signed and when UK businesses will be told whether any of the continuity agreements will not be struck.

The contribution from Labour’s international trade spokesperson this afternoon followed her letter to Truss earlier this month, in which she argued that “last year’s momentum appeared to die out” as the UK entered 2020.

She wrote: “Not a single additional continuity agreement was secured in the first eight months of 2020, and in their correspondence with the shadow international trade team, representatives of countries ranging from Cameroon to Montenegro have reported that no formal talks were even conducted in that period.”

International trade carried out between the UK and other countries, without a continuity agreement in place when the UK leaves the EU, would be based on less favourable World Trade Organisation terms.

MIL OSI United Kingdom