Following talks concluded early this morning (Friday December 8) agreement has now been reached that there would be no hard border in Ireland – an obstacle that had prevented the successful conclusion of phase-one Brexit negotiations earlier this week. Under the deal, EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU would also see their rights protected.
Now that agreement on UK payments to the EU, citizens rights and the border with Ireland have been successfully concluded, phase-two talks on post-Brexit trade between the UK and EU can now commence.
There were five good reasons why the negotiations on trade would be successful, said Price, formerly md at upmarket retailer Waitrose. He was speaking at the Food and Drink Federation’s President’s Reception at the British Library on Wednesday December 6.
Price advised food and drink businesses to start thinking about what the world would look like in a post-Brexit age where tariffs and barriers were reciprocally being reduced for countries around the world and where the UK would have to be more productive and a world leader.
Price began by praising the negotiating skills of the UK’s civil servants. “I think we have a team of people who can deliver on what the British people wanted,” said Price. “We had 45 people working on trade policy and new agreements on the day of the referendum. We had 550 when I stepped down from my post in September.”
‘Exactly the right place’
Price also thought the government had arrived at “exactly the right place” regarding what it wanted from any new comprehensive free-trade agreement with the EU and elsewhere. “It’s the best outcome for business in terms of being able to trade with the EU but also to competitively trade with the rest of the world.
“The other thing is the EU knows how important your sector [food and drink] is. The net surplus of exports from the EU to the UK are £10bn … and they have to get to a position very quickly where that is prioritised. I know that the Commission officials are working on that and I am sure that we will get to the right place.”
He added that the good news with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) was that the current schedules with the EU would be replicated after Brexit.
“The truth is you cannot fall out of the multilateral trading system. All that happens is that we will post our schedules … if those countries are not happy they can appeal and they can win their appeal. But we cannot stop trading on the terms we have today with those countries [with which] we want do WTO terms – America, China, India, etc. So, the status quo will be maintained.”
The third reason to be cheerful, reported Price, was that 75 trade and other ministers representing 35 countries he had meetings with after the Brexit vote, “were all committed to rolling over the current EU trade deals”.
Appetite for free-trade deals
“The fourth reason to be positive is a real appetite around the world to do new free-trade agreements with the UK.” He announced that early meetings had already been held with nine of those countries as a precursor to having formal trade talks after the UK left the EU.
Lastly, Price reported that “all persuasions of the Brexit vote” within the Cabinet had recognised the need for a transitionary period post-Brexit, to ensure the arrangements were in place and businesses could make decisions and plan for the future.
“So, for all of those reasons I feel confident that we can actually be a successful, independent trading nation post-Brexit. I voted to remain but I believe that can be done and there is no reason we can’t have a positive future,” Price claimed.
“I believe there will be bumps in the road. There will be real difficulties along the way … but I see little point now in having a ‘I told you so’ attitude when the inevitable bumps come along.”