Nick Thomas-Symonds – 2022 Speech on the UK-Australia Free Trade Agreement

The speech made by Nick Thomas-Symonds, the Labour MP for Torfaen, in the House of Commons on 19 July 2022.

I am grateful for the granting of today’s urgent question and I congratulate the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall) on securing it.

The Government’s failure to make adequate parliamentary time available for a debate on this trade deal is completely unacceptable and a clear breach of promise. Lord Grimstone wrote in May 2020:

“The Government does not envisage a new FTA proceeding to ratification without a debate first having taken place on it”.

The Select Committee has, rightly, been scathing about the way the Government have handled scrutiny on this issue and about their premature triggering of the 21-day CRaG process without full Select Committee consideration being available to Members. Today’s clear rejection of an extension to the CRaG process is, yet again, unacceptable behaviour from the Government.

The truth is that Ministers are running away from scrutiny. Might Ministers be running away because of the Select Committee’s report stating they lack a “coherent trade strategy”? Or might the Government be hiding from scrutiny because of the chaos at the Department itself? Members do not have to take my word for it. Yesterday, the Secretary of State was saying of her own Minister of State for Trade Policy, the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), that there has been a

“number of times when she hasn’t been available which would have been useful and other Ministers have picked up the pieces”.

That is her own Minister. Maybe the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade, the hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena), is one of the Ministers who has been picking up the pieces. Or might Ministers be hiding because of the lack of progress in their trade policy, with no comprehensive trade deal with the US in sight?

There are profound consequences for our agricultural sector from the Australian deal that Ministers should be open about and accountable for. Is it any wonder that Australia’s former negotiator at the WTO said:

“I don’t think we have ever done as well as this”?

To put it quite simply, when are Ministers going to stop running away from their own failure?

Mr Jayawardena

I think that, actually, we have a very good deal that the Government should be proud of and which will benefit the British people. As I said—perhaps the right hon. Gentleman was not listening—this will increase trade with Australia by 53%, boost our economy by £2.3 billion and add £900 million to household wages in the long run. In fact, £132 million of exports already go from Wales to Australia. We want to boost that even further to benefit the people of Wales and his constituency.

As for what my noble Friend Lord Grimstone said, processes for the other place are a matter for the other place. It is clear that the Labour party is so focused on process that they are not focused on securing the benefits for the British people of Brexit.