22nd April 2021
One of the consequences of politicians not having careers before entering parliament is that ministers can be over-influenced by unusual experiences.
For example, as home secretary Theresa May and her advisors had the benefit of the ‘pick-and-choose’ approach to European Union justice and home affairs matters, where the United Kingdom had a number of opt-outs.
And so when May and those advisors were translated to 10 Downing Street it appeared that they believed that the same à la carte approach could be taken to the single market in the Brexit negotiations, unaware that the European Union would instead have a more of an ‘all-or-nothing’ approach.
Similarly the current international trade secretary Elizabeth Truss has been misled by her experiences to date into thinking international free trade deals are easy.
This is because in the immediate post-Brexit period it was possible to ‘rollover’ a number of existing trade deals between the European Union and (so-called) third countries, almost on a ‘copy-and-paste’ basis.
Successful completion of the continuity agreements must have convinced them that this is what negotiating trade deals outside of the EU looks like.— Dr Anna Jerzewska (@AnnaJerzewska) April 21, 2021
Well, it's not. Negotiating a trade deal from scratch is bound to take longer than agreeing to use one that you already have
Such a formative experience would also be informed by the basic error of post-2016 governments of the United Kingdom that Brexit itself was a quick and easy task.
There is a significant difference between continuing with an existing trade arrangement and putting in place an entirely new free trade agreement from scratch, especially with another major economy.
The slowness, however, is a surprise and a disappointment to the current international trade secretary, who is a politician in a hurry.
And so we get this preposterous news story.
NEW Liz Truss prepares for showdown with Aussie trade minister in London this week.— Lucy Fisher (@LOS_Fisher) April 20, 2021
Her allies says trade deal progress is “glacially slow” under Dan Tehan.
“He is inexperienced compared to Liz. He needs to show that he can play at this level,” they addhttps://t.co/D6ASSo8kR7
Allies of Truss say she plans to sit Aussie trade minister Tehan “in the Locarno Room [in Foreign Office] in an uncomfortable chair, so he has to deal with her directly for 9 hours”.— Lucy Fisher (@LOS_Fisher) April 20, 2021
They add “Australia need to show us the colour of their money” and match “words with action”.
‘…an uncomfortable chair’
The only normal reaction to the detail of this excruciating news story is to cringe with sheer embarrassment.
(By the way, the use of ‘allies’ as a plural means that the pronouns for the ‘source’ are the less-revealing they/them – which are presumably the international trade secretary’s preferred pronouns.)
Of course, this daft intervention has not gone unnoticed by Australia.
‘Bizarre’ UK comments about Australia’s trade minister a ‘serious setback’ to talks https://t.co/5Iy8WeUm5q— The Guardian (@guardian) April 21, 2021
Perhaps the ‘allies’ of the international trade secretary did not believe that these comments would ever reach the Australians.
The serious point here is, well, about the lack of seriousness.
The United Kingdom needs to be taken seriously as a party to international agreements in this new, lonely post-Brexit period.
Yet the United Kingdom seems no closer to getting why this important.
We have a prime minister who is loudly and publicly denouncing as ‘ludicrous’ the very arrangements in respect of Northern Ireland that resulted from his own change of policy, which he negotiated and signed, and for which he campaigned for and won an electoral mandate before rushing into law.
Johnson changed May's policy so to have these barriers, despite saying he would not— davidallengreen (@davidallengreen) April 20, 2021
He negotiated them
He signed the agreement
He won an election mandate for them
He forced them through in legislation without proper scrutiny or debate
…he calls them 'ludicrous' https://t.co/R3pY1cJMvX
There seems to be an unawareness that the world is watching these antics.
And although they may ‘play well’ to domestic political and media constituencies, that is at a cost to the United Kingdom’s interests as an actor on the international stage.
The prime minister and he international trade secretary need a period of reflection about these counterproductive utterances and gestures.
Perhaps they should sit down, and think hard about what they are doing for a few hours.
Perhaps, even, in an uncomfortable chair.
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