Brexit free trade deals struck by Boris Johnson may not provide any “actual economic benefits”, MPs have warned.
In a scathing report, the Public Accounts Committee accused the Department of International Trade (DIT) of being too secretive – and not keeping parliament adequately informed about its endeavours.
The influential cross-party committee said consumer standards could slip because of the deals, with possible “trade-offs across different policy areas, such as agriculture, the environment and human rights”.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, a Tory MP who deputy chairs the committee, said DIT was “really struggling to point to tangible wins for British business, consumers or our own agriculture sector”.
‘Lack of clarity’
The report, released on Friday, says: “There is a lack of clarity about how the department will measure whether it is achieving benefits from its programme of trade negotiations so that parliament can hold it to account for its progress.
“The department currently publishes the impact assessments it makes prior to trade agreements being implemented, but the department has not set any associated targets.
“There is no guarantee that the agreements will deliver actual economic benefits unless the department provides vital support to help businesses use the agreements, particularly for smaller businesses wanting to export worldwide.”
Trade economists have poured scorn on the government’s post-Brexit trading policy, with one analysis from the University of Sussex last year suggesting that the all the trade deals struck by ministers were less than 178 times less than the expected hit from quitting the European Union.
Sir Geoffrey said DIT “seems to have forgotten that its first and core duty is to deliver for UK consumers, business and our environment”.
The department’s aim should be “seems to have forgotten that its first and core duty is to deliver for UK consumers, business and our environment”, he said.
He added: “The PAC has previously expressed concerns that our consumer protection system is unable to deal with the new arrangements, and recent reports of tax fraud and modern slavery breaches cast doubt on capability in other critical parts of the trade system.
“The department needs to communicate what benefits we might expect from this brave new world we’ve entered and what trade-offs we face.”
He concluded: “DIT is constrained by the deliberations and choices of our biggest trading partners – this is a problem of its own making, and for it to fix: families struggling out of the pandemic and into a massive cost-of-living crisis must not be the ones to pay.”
Andrew Brendan MacNeil, the SNP chair of the International Trade Committee, said the report indicates that there is “now clear agreement across the House of Commons that the government is not being transparent about the deals it is signing and that it needs to allow greater parliamentary scrutiny”.
He told The Independent: “Treating MPs as add-ons at the end of the process is simply not good enough. Today’s report also underlines the need for the Department for International Trade to produce the broader trade strategy we have been calling for, rather than simply engage in ad hoc negotiations.
“Doing so will allow us to see where it has been successful, what trade-offs it has made, and where its negotiations have not been up to scratch.”