Dehenna Davison is the Member of Parliament for Bishop Auckland.
Back in 2016, hundreds of thousands of voters across the North East voted to take Britain out of the European Union’s trade system.
For decades, we have had a front-row seat as our manufacturers, farmers, and fishermen have suffered under rules drawn up in Brussels around the competing needs of 28 different nations and powerful vested interests of certain Member States. Far from being an effort to turn back the clock or shut out the world, Brexit was our chance to reclaim Britain’s seat at the top table and carve out a new, global role.
The Covid-19 pandemic makes this task more urgent. Not only will we need every possible means to jump-start the economy once we come out of lockdown, but the outbreak has also shown what a crucial part trade plays in spreading and upholding global standards by exposing China’s extraordinary influence on the international stage.
That’s why a trade deal with the United States needs to be top of the Government’s international agenda. Not only would deeper links between two of the world’s largest economies unlock a range of direct economic benefits, it would also form the foundation for a new international trading order built on the foundations of the special relationship.
America is already one of the UK’s biggest customers, with British exports in 2019 worth £138.7 billion. According to the Department for International Trade, a good trade deal with America could increase UK GDP by up to £3.4 billion pounds.
Lower tariffs will make British goods, especially agricultural produce such as beef, lamb, and dairy products, more competitive in the US market. The impact of such a boost to farming in constituencies such as Bishop Auckland, where almost half of our land is used for agriculture, should not be under-estimated. The US is the second-largest importer of lamb in the world, having increased in popularity in recent times. Even a three per cent market share could boost annual UK lamb exports by £18m – a huge opportunity for our North Eastern farmers.
Central to the appeal of British produce are our world-leading quality and welfare standards. Our farmers are justly proud of them, and the Government is wise to have guaranteed that these won’t be compromised in any negotiation. They are morally right, and they also give us a chance to make ‘British’ a byword for quality in supermarkets around the world.
But we won’t be able to export our goods or our values if ill-advised politicians keep trying to bind the hands of our negotiators.
I recently helped the Government vote down two critical amendments to the Agriculture Bill which risked killing any trade deal with the US stone dead. These would have meant that goods could be imported to the UK only if their production standards matched or exceeded ours in every particular way.
This was a recipe for disaster. The proposed rules would have been completely unenforceable, and seen the judges once again dragged into politics via a slew of lawsuits over what exactly ‘equivalent standards’ really meant. They may even have been illegal under World Trade Organisation rules.
Even if we somehow avoided all that, they would have set a precedent which would severely curtail our ability to import, with the inevitable consequence of higher prices and reduced choice for British consumers.
Worse still, these proposals would also have reduced our clout internationally. Countries which lock their markets away behind excessive red tape don’t make attractive trade partners. Such an attitude would also have made it much harder for us to strike deals with emerging economies to help them trade their way towards prosperity – a high price to pay for a bout of reflex anti-Americanism.
In reality, if we really want to export our values there could be no better start than a deep and comprehensive trade agreement with the United States. Such a deal could lay the foundations for a new international trading order built on our shared commitments to free trade, democracy, and the rule of law. Future agreements with like-minded nations such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Singapore could expand this into a powerful new international trade partnership, one with the clout to take on Brussels or Beijing.
With our world-class standards and the fifth-largest global economy, Britain has the chance to place itself at the heart of this new system. But only if we let Liz Truss and our expert negotiating team do their jobs.
Of course, Parliament has a vital democratic role to play in our trade policy – that’s why we voted to take back control. But the right time for that is when the results of the negotiations are laid before MPs, where they can be considered in full. Constant interference in the negotiations themselves risks scuppering deals which will play a crucial role in accelerating the UK economy back towards growth, and risks replicating the very protectionist and excessively political system we left the EU to escape.
The UK/US trade deal will lay the foundation for a new, entrepreneurial Global Britain – trading freely and fairly with all four corners of the earth. If we allow the deal to be delayed, derailed or diluted through endless amendments, we will pay the price in our national pocket. That is not what anyone voted for.