Surely we can all agree, regardless of political opinion or stance in past debates, that the UK should be negotiating the best trade deals that are possible and protecting British standards and rights in the process. That should be a no-brainer.
The government has been signing trade deals and loudly trumpeting what it sees as its great successes with Australia, Japan and of course the deal with the EU. But are they doing good deals? Is the UK’s new post-Brexit trading policy actually working for British businesses and consumers?
Is the government interested in the quality of trade deals, or just interested in increasing the quantity of deals at any cost?
Before the start of this year, there was a Parliamentary Committee chaired by Hilary Benn MP which was set up to monitor and provide scrutiny and challenge to the government on its Brexit policy and on matters arising as a result of Brexit. But this government doesn’t seem to want to answer questions or take feedback.
The government shut the committee down.
So, working with Hilary Benn MP and others from across the worlds of business, politics, law and trade, Best for Britain helped set up the UK Trade and Business Commission in April 2021 with the aim of developing recommendations and policies that can ensure Britain’s future trading relationships are strong and that they protect British people and interests.
What we’ve done
Since establishing the Commission, we’ve held fortnightly sessions with members. In these sessions, we aim to bring together voices from across the business, trade and political spheres to hear how real businesses and industry sectors are actually being affected.
Commission sessions focus on specific policy areas. Recently, we brought together academic and business leaders to discuss science and innovation in the wake of Brexit, considering ways to work collaboratively with our European partners on ground-breaking projects. Other sessions included a special meeting on the UK-Australia Trade Deal, chaired by Caroline Lucas MP, which allowed experts to give their opinion on the impacts of the proposed agreement and encouraged attendees to think of alternatives to the deal. In addition to this we have also held meetings with leaders in the UK creative and cultural industries to establish the impacts of Brexit and consider how any challenges can be overcome.
We also work on the issues which might not always make the headlines. For example, one session of the commission explored the finer details of the EU-UK trade in animal products. The commission considered how a potential EU-UK veterinary agreement might interact with a UK-US free trade agreement. The commission has also covered financial services, food and drink and has done lots of work with small businesses to establish their needs and expectations.
By holding these sessions, the commission is able to drive policy development, make recommendations and raise awareness around the issues affecting UK trade post-Brexit.
For example, after our commission session on small businesses, we were able to coordinate a letter to Michael Gove MP detailing the commission’s findings based on evidence from small businesses across the country. We were able to submit policy recommendations and highlight the key struggles faced by businesses. We also raised awareness of the toll Brexit was taking on small businesses across several media outlets.
We also use social media to amplify all of the commission’s findings, and we’ve had real success in getting people engage with our content and the issues it raises.
As the commission secretariat, we work to make sure that the commission is meeting its aims. The commission is primarily a space where we can draw up policy and decide how best we can present those policies to effect change. Nevertheless, we want to make sure that the work of the commission is reaching plenty of diverse external audiences and so we make sure to supplement the research and learning side of the commission with a healthy amount of press and publicity work.
Bringing all these strands of activity together - and so many commissioners from various backgrounds - is no mean feat. Not everyone believed that this commission would work but it has. Not only is our work gaining real traction and coverage, but we have some steps in place for turning recommendations into reality.
We have a comprehensive plan for upcoming commission sessions, and we aim to look at subjects including the state of the union, pharmaceuticals and the acquisition of people, talent and skills.
In addition, we are further expanding our reach and influence. While our recommendations are regularly accepted by trade bodies, and the commission is growing in terms of recognition, our next plan is to meet with figures from Government. Lord Frost, Chair of the EU-UK Partnership Council has signalled his intention to meet with us to consider our recommendations, and Graham Stuart MP, Minister for Exports has requested to meet with us. Not bad going, we think.
We’re hoping that the commission can make a real difference to the UK’s future. By blending expertise with strategic insights and careful planning, we think that the UK can make the right trade deals and lead with policies that can genuinely benefit its people.
That is something we will always stand by.