Negotiations for Britain’s exit from the EU are underway, and the nature of the final deal is being hotly debated.
The UK’s trade relationships after Brexit have been an area of particular uncertainty among politicians and experts, with no clear information about how the UK will negotiate the agreements which will replace current EU trade deals.
Former trade minister and prominent Brexit campaigner Lord Digby Jones took to Twitter to argue that the UK was already making post-Brexit trade relationships. His message was shared or liked more than 1,000 times.
Ferret Fact Service assessed this claim and rated it FFS.
Theresa May has spent recent weeks meeting with world leaders as the UK attempts to forge different relationships on trade for a post-Brexit Britain.
Lord Digby Jones’s tweet claimed trade deals were sorted with Australia and the US, and appeared to be based on meetings held between the Prime Minister and her counterparts in the two countries.
Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull met with May at Downing Street on 10 July and, in a joint press conference, told reporters that his country was “ready to enter into a free trade agreement with the UK as soon as the UK is able to do so”.
However, there is no indication and no official statement to say any such deal has been formally agreed. There have been no official negotiations on the terms of a trade deal, nor a provisional agreement of when or where such negotiations would take place. Mr Turnbull only stated that Australia was “ready to enter” into an agreement on free trade between the countries.
The Australian Prime Minister added that any deal would be concluded “once that Brexit has been achieved” in March 2019, and after his country had made a deal with the EU.
Theresa May spoke to US President Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Hamburg on 8 July about the potential for US-UK trade after Brexit is complete. The UK government confirmed Trump and May had agreed to prioritise work on a deal.
Before the meeting, Trump told media that they had been “working on a trade deal which will be a very, very big deal, a very powerful deal, great for both countries and I think we will have that done very, very quickly.”
International trade secretary Liam Fox confirmed on BBC Question Time on 29 June that initial trade talks with the US were due to begin on 24 July, although no further details of the meeting have been released. There has been no suggestion that formal talks had actually begun by 11 July, when Lord Jones’s claim was made.
But are negotiations on trade even possible?
One potential stumbling block for the UK’s trade deals is that EU law says members cannot unilaterally make deals with non-EU countries. This would mean that, as the UK would remain an EU member through the period stated in Article 50, it would technically not be able to conclude trade deals until Brexit is complete in 2019. However this has been challenged, and in practical terms, informal negotiations may well be started in order to avoid a period of economic uncertainty once negotiations are complete.
The phrase “in the bag” is defined by Collins Dictionary as “almost assured of succeeding or being obtained”, so Lord Jones did not necessarily mean the deals were complete. However, there appears to be no evidence of any deals being struck, or even formally negotiated, between Britain and Australia or the US.
Ferret Fact Service verdict: FFS!
Lord Jones’s claim that trade deals with the US and Australia are “in the bag” is clearly false. While there appears to be a willingness from both countries to negotiate with the UK for a free trade agreement, there have not been any formal talks, any agreement on the scope or timings of a deal, or any substantive framework for when, where and for how long negotiations would take place.
Ferret Fact Service (FFS) is a non-partisan fact checker, working to the International Fact-Checking Network fact-checkers’ code of principles. All the sources used in our checks are publicly available and the FFS fact-checking methodology can be viewed here. Any questions or want to get involved? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or join our community forum.
Lord Digby Jones did not respond to an FFS request for evidence of his claim.
Photo thanks to The White House.