Trade Minister Greg Hands was unable to name a single country that had expressed interest in a post-Brexit trade deal in response to a parliamentary question.
With the second set of negotiations set to accelerate in 2018, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox will be stepping up efforts to find trade deals the UK can sign after Brexit in 2019.
But when challenged by Labour MP Stella Creasy over which foreign governments were queuing up to trade with the UK, his department floundered.
Greg Hands, Trade Minister, refused to list any country after Creasy’s Parliamentary Question, saying that “the UK has met with a wide range of countries to discuss various aspects of our trading relationship.”
Creasy, a leading supporter of the pro-single market campaign Open Britain, said: “The Prime Minister wants us to believe that the economic damage of leaving the EU will be made up by concluding trade deals around the world – but her own trade minister can’t point to a single country that has expressed an interest in a free trade deal with Britain.
“We all procrastinate from time to time, but Liam Fox is taking it to another level. It’s extraordinary that so little progress has been made eighteen months on since the referendum.
“People are already feeling the pinch as a result of Brexit, with prices rising and growth slowing. A hard Brexit will make things even worse, and shiny new trade deals are not going to materialise. Voters have the right to keep an open mind about whether this is really the best future for our country.”
Late last year it was revealed the EU is exploring the inclusion of a “punishment clause” in any future trade deal with the UK to allow Brussels to place tariffs on key British exports to the bloc if the UK government seeks to gain a commercial advantage by lowering regulatory standards.
The EU is currently Britain’s biggest trading partner, followed by the US and China.