The chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee has written to Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, to raise concerns over his claim that the UK could easily trade on World Trade Organisation terms in the event of a no-deal Brexit.
Tom Tugendhat asked Mr Raab to explain his previous suggestion that trade after Brexit could be based on WTO terms if there was no exit agreement in place, pointing out that there were “inherent flaws” with the organisation.
Delivering a withering assessment of the WTO, Mr Tugendhat said he was “surprised” by Mr Raab’s claims that the organisation’s rules would provide “a stable platform” for the UK to trade with other nations.
He said such an outcome “would force UK businesses and supply chains to adapt to a new and substantially less liberal trade and regulatory architecture overnight”.
In a blunt letter expressing scepticism about Mr Raab’s comments, Mr Tugendhat said WTO rules were “long-outdated” and claimed that the organisation had repeatedly shown “weaknesses as a bulwark of the international rules-based order”.
He added: “The circumvention of its rules by the world’s great trading powers has raised serious questions about the very future of the organisation.
“WTO agreements are routinely violated, undermining the rules-based international order”.
During the Conservative leadership contest in June, Mr Raab, then a candidate, wrote: “It is time to bring this tortuous Brexit process to an end. It is time for a clean break. We should keep the arm of friendship extended to our EU neighbours. But, if we have to leave on a WTO basis, then so be it.”
Now the foreign secretary, he had been due to appear in front of the Commons foreign affairs committee later this week but the hearing was cancelled after Boris Johnson suspended parliament, starting from Monday night.
In a letter demanding answers to a number of questions, Mr Tugendhat said the USA’s hostility to the WTO was another cause for concern.
He told Mr Raab: “I know you agree that the UK needs to be investing in a strong, open, rules-based trading order – not one that is defined by power alone – but sadly the challenges to the current, open system are intensifying and the existing bodies are under growing strain.
“Could you explain the rationale for basing the UK’s future global trade strategy on an organisation which our US partners view as no longer worth supporting?
Quoting WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo’s admission that the organisation faced “serious harm”, he added: “It seems a bold decision to bet the national economy on an organisation that even its leader recognises is struggling with legitimacy in a world that has turned away from multilateralism.”
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