‘Sour grapes’ prompted ex-minister to disown Aussie trade deal

Brexit: Westminster has 'appeased' EU warns Ben Habib

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George Eustice’s delayed decision to denounce the Australia trade deal which he defended when a member of Boris Johnson’s cabinet is driven by “sour grapes” at his subsequent sacking by Liz Truss, a former Brexit Party MEP has claimed. Ben Habib also took the ex-environment secretary to task for “handing over” Britain’s fishing waters to the EU, citing it as evidence of the Government’s failure to “take back control” in line with the Tories’ 2019 election pledge.

Mr Eustice is now a backbencher, having been fired by Ms Truss after she was appointed Prime Minister on September 6.

And he used his freedom to speak plainly by airing his dissatisfaction during a debate in the House of Commons yesterday, in which he said the agreement was “was not actually a very good deal” because the UK “gave away far too much for far too little in return”

Mr Habib, who served alongside 29 other Brexit Party MEPs in the European Parliament in 2019, said: “It is strange that Eustice should wait until now to denounce the deal. He negotiated it.

“Typical sour grapes and from a man that handed over our fishing waters to the EU.”

Under the terms of the Brexit trade deal agreed between London and Brussels in 2020, 25 percent of the existing EU quota in UK waters will be transferred to the UK over a five-and-a-half year period to June 30, 2026.

After that, the two sides will negotiate annually to decide how the catch is shared out, with the UK having the right to exclude EU boats completely.

However, in practice, such a move is highly likely unlike because the bloc could respond with taxes on exports of British fish to the EU or even by denying UK boats access to EU waters.

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Given he was at the time minister of state for agriculture, fisheries and food, the deal fell under Mr Eustice’s remit, and Mr Habib added: “Could the Express please ask Eustice to explain why his government did not take back control of fishing as was promised in the 2019 Tory manifesto?

“Or is that too an inconvenient a question?”

Mr Eustice told MPs the UK did not actually need to give Australia nor New Zealand full liberalisation in beef and sheep as “it was not in our economic interest to do so”.

He also called for the interim permanent secretary for the Department for International Trade to quit, after telling the Commons his approach during the negotiations was to “internalise” Australian demands even if they were against UK interests.

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He further blamed Ms Truss, who was international trade secretary from 2019 until 2021, for setting an arbitrary target, and therefore “setting the clock against us and shattering our own negotiating position”.

He explained: “I no longer have to put such a positive gloss on what was agreed

“Unless we recognise the failures that the Department for International Trade made during the Australia negotiations, we won’t be able to learn the lessons of future negotiations and there are critical negotiations under way right now, notably on CPTPP (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) and on Canada, and it is essential that the Department for International Trade does not repeat the mistakes it made.

“And so the first step is to recognise that the Australia trade deal is not actually a very good deal for the UK.”

“The truth of the matter is that the UK gave away far too much for far too little in return”.

“The UK went into this negotiation holding the strongest hand, holding all of the best cards, but at some point in early summer 2021, the then trade secretary took a decision to set an arbitrary target to conclude heads of terms by the time of the G7 summit, and from that moment the UK was on the back foot repeatedly.

“In fact, at one point the then trade secretary asked her opposite number from Australia what he would need in order to be able to conclude an agreement by G7, and of course the Australian negotiator very kindly set out the Australian terms, which then shaped eventually the deal.”

He added: “Crawford Falconer, who is currently the interim permanent secretary, is not fit for that position, in my experience.

“His approach always was to internalise Australian demands, often when they were against UK interests, his advice was invariably to retreat and make fresh concessions and all the while he resented people who understood technical issues greater than he did.

“He has now done that job for several years. I think it would be a good opportunity for him to move on and to get a different type of negotiator in place, somebody who understands British interests better than I think he’s been able to.”

Responding to Mr Eustice’s remarks, a source close to Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch said: “With more than 25 years’ experience, Crawford is acknowledged as one of the world’s leading experts on global free trade and is doing an exemplary job.

“The deal we’ve done with Australia – which was collectively agreed to by a cabinet that included George Eustice himself – is set to unlock more than £10bn of trade.”

Express.co.uk has approached Mr Eustice for comment.

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