Labour’s Rachel Reeves has told the government that “the whole country is waiting for the comprehensive trade and security deal that was promised at the general election less than a year ago”.
Addressing MPs following an urgent question tabled by Labour this afternoon, the Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow Cabinet Office minister slammed the government over its failure to secure a post-Brexit trade deal.
Reeves told the government minister: “Last year, the Prime Minister said that to leave with no deal would be a failure of state craft. So this government must take responsibility for their failure if we are to leave without a deal…
“We will hold the government to account whatever they bring back – deal or no deal. With just 24 days to go until the end of the transition period, let me ask a few basic questions in terms of this government and our country’s readiness.”
Reeves challenged the government on the impact of leaving the transition period without a deal and trading on World Trade Organisation terms, stressing the precarious situation of industries such as the agricultural and automotive sectors.
The Labour spokesperson also pressed the minister on how many of the 50,000 customs agents, which the government itself said are needed before the UK leaves the transition period at the end of December, have actually been recruited.
Reeves finished by reminding the Commons: “The former International Trade Secretary said that a trade deal with the EU would be the ‘easiest trade deal in human history’.” She added: “Is that still the view of this government?”
Conservative minister Penny Mordaunt told MPs today: “The only deal that is possible is one that is compatible with our sovereignty and one that takes back control of our laws, trade and waters.
“While an agreement is preferable, we are prepared to leave on so-called Australian-style terms if we can’t find compromises… People and businesses must prepare for the changes that are coming on 31st December.”
The urgent question from Labour comes amid ongoing Brexit negotiations, with the European Council set to hold its final summit of the year on Thursday at which it hopes to sign off a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU.
It also comes ahead of a debate this afternoon on the controversial internal market bill, which contains provisions that contravene the Good Friday Agreement and overwrite sections of the withdrawal agreement signed up to by Boris Johnson.
The bill passed its third reading in the Commons with a majority of 84 in September but the government suffered a large defeat in the House of Lords last month with peers rejecting clauses allowing ministers to break international law.
The Prime Minister has this afternoon offered to drop the controversial clauses in the internal market bill in a bid to break the deadlock in the trade negotiations with the European bloc.