PM May: World ready to trade with Britain

Reassurance comes ahead of Dec 11 vote in Parliament on her Brexit deal with EU

LONDON • Several world leaders are keen to strike trade deals with Britain once the country is out of the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May has said, pressing the case for her Brexit deal before a Dec 11 vote in Parliament.

Mrs May is facing an uphill struggle to get lawmakers to back her deal to keep close economic ties with the bloc, which she agreed on with the EU late last month. The main opposition Labour Party has said it will seek a vote of no confidence in the government if Mrs May loses the vote.

The pact has been criticised within Mrs May's own Conservative Party, both by supporters of a cleaner break with the EU and by opponents of Brexit. A Northern Irish party which props up her minority government has said it will vote against it.

After visiting Argentina for a Group of 20 (G-20) summit, Mrs May said yesterday that her meetings with leaders showed that several countries were ready to negotiate trade deals "as soon as possible". Swift new trade deals are a major demand for Brexit campaigners.

"Once we leave the EU, we can and we will strike ambitious trade deals," Mrs May told Parliament.

"For the first time in more than 40 years we will have an independent trade policy, and we will continue to be a passionate advocate for the benefits open economies and free markets can bring."

She said that she had meetings with leaders keen to strike trade deals, including Argentina, the G-20 host, Australia, Chile and Japan. With Japan, Britain wants to work quickly to set up a new arrangement based on Tokyo's existing partnership agreement with the EU, she said.

The government has said if Mrs May's deal is voted down, there is a risk Britain will exit the EU with no agreement at all, with serious potential economic consequences.

Some opponents of Brexit have campaigned for a new referendum, giving voters the option to reverse Britain's 2016 vote to leave the bloc, although the government says no such new vote will be held.

Britain has officially notified the World Trade Organisation (WTO) of the proposed terms for its trade in services with other countries after Brexit, an important part of its divorce from the EU, Trade Minister Liam Fox said yesterday.

The procedure is necessary because the United Kingdom must disentangle its WTO membership from that of the EU.

Mr Fox said the proposed new terms circulated among WTO members would replicate Britain's current obligations as far as possible.

"We see this only as a technical exercise that will provide continuity for business and, in future, we will work with other members on an ambitious agenda to liberalise international trade in services even further," Mr Fox said in a statement.

With the odds looking stacked against her, Mrs May is touring the country and media studios to try and win over critics including both eurosceptics and europhiles who say the deal will leave Britain a diminished state, still linked economically to the EU but no longer having any say over the rules.

In an interview with ITV television yesterday, when asked if she would quit if she lost the Dec 11 vote, Mrs May said: "I will still have a job in two weeks' time."

She added: "My job is making sure that we do what the public asked us to: we leave the EU but we do it in a way that's good for them."

Mrs May also said there would be no changes to the Brexit plan she has hammered out with other EU leaders.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 04, 2018, with the headline 'PM May: World ready to trade with Britain'. Print Edition | Subscribe