Australia’s trade minister has dampened hopes by Brexiteers that Britain might be able to forge a new relationship with the Commonwealth after it leaves the EU.
Steven Ciobo told the European Parliament on Thursday that Australia’s “historical” relationship with Britain was “in many respects a relationship of yesteryear”.
He added that negotiating a free trade deal with Britain would be “at a minimum … two and half a years away”, and said talks with the EU were significantly more advanced.
“I see the European Union FTA as certainly commencing formal negotiations well and truly prior to anything that might happen with the UK,” he told MEPs.
“The UK and Australia of course do have a historical relationship, but it's in many respects a relationship of yesteryear.
“What we look at in terms of our relationship with the UK now from a trade perspective, as they go about exiting the EU, is to be mindful of the fact that they are exiting."
Australia was not “in a position to negotiate a UK-Australia agreement until such time as that exit occurs”, Mr Ciobo said –echoing comments by the UK’s own International Trade Secretary Liax Fox this morning.
The comments were made at a joint hearing of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs and International Trade Committees.
Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder said the comments showed that Britain would be on its own.
“This is a huge blow to Liam Fox and his Brexit trade fantasy,” she said.
“The economic reality is that even our closest trading partners will prioritise talks with the EU, the biggest market in the world, over the UK.
“Pulling out of Europe’s single market would mean years of damaging uncertainty, job losses and investment. How do you tell businesses to wait years to know what the rules of trade will be?
“The Liberal Democrats will stand up against a damaging Brexit and fight to keep Britain open, tolerant and united.”
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