Foreign trade requires political honesty

Although now retired, my background is in manufacturing industry and I have been involved in exporting very high added value machines all over the world.

I was also a member, for six years, of the joint FCO/DTI – as it was then – British Trade International – now UKTI – responsible for Government promotion of exports and inward investment.

I would like to address the current Government policy on Foreign Trade, the ostensible Tory belief in Free Trade and the equivocal state of the Labour Party on Brexit.

It is strange that – as a first step – the Government policy involves leaving the largest Free Trade area in the world with the inevitable and disastrous destruction of vital supply chains that support our own industries and those of our EU partners.

The CBI, the TUC, the EEF, the IOD and the British Chambers of Commerce all wish to stay in the Customs Union and the Single Market permanently.

This abdication of Government responsibility is based on the deeply prejudiced ideology of the extreme right wing of the Tory Party rather than on reality. We are promised that we will be compensated by magic new Foreign Trade Agreements with such countries as China, India and Japan – the last two of which are some of the most protectionist economies in the world.

As the EU has negotiated all our Foreign Trade Agreements for years, we now have negligible expertise in this area!

Foreign Trade Agreements are two-way instruments that require both parties to make concessions to get an agreement and this usually requires lengthy and complicated negotiations lasting a number of years.

Even a quick agreement as promised by President Trump – if you can believe what he says – will probably involve the destruction of our agricultural sector.

Another example is the fate of our airlines that can currently fly anywhere inside the EU and fly to the rest of the world under EU-negotiated bilaterals. We will now need to negotiate new agreements with every country that our airlines fly to including, for example, the US, Argentina, Japan or even France.

Although the Labour Party has recently shown some signs of sanity, they fought the recent election on a hard Brexit agenda.  The man who currently leads the Party has always positioned himself as an outsider within his own party and has prided himself on putting his principles before expediency. In this case, expediency won easily as he forced his colleagues through the Article 50 “Yes” lobby and, in the election, mopped up the traditional Labour vote that had migrated to the dying UKIP! It made me sick to see him lap up the adulation of the young people at Glastonbury whose futures he was in the process of betraying!

So – where are we now?

We have a Foreign Secretary who is economical with the truth, a buffoon and whose prime motivation is not the interests of the nation or even the Tory Party but solely himself and who is the laughing stock of the international arena.

And we have a Foreign Trade Secretary who has previously had to resign as Defence Secretary on ethical grounds, who contradicts his colleagues and who is obviously well out of his depth as he shows little knowledge of the politics and intricacy of Foreign Trade.

Truly we have a Goat in Fox’s clothing.

In reality, both major parties are split down the middle on Brexit and a majority of MPs are probably Remainers but lack the guts to defy their leaders.

What an unbelievable mess!

Unless political honesty – currently a scarce commodity – suddenly breaks out in Westminster and Remainers from all parties unite to end this madness, we are in for an economic and cultural disaster.

Richard Turner

Richard Turner. Photo © Clive Dellard.