DExEU Ministers and officials hold regular discussions with the Department for International Trade on EU exit and trade matters. We are working at pace to ensure that the necessary arrangements for our future partnership are in place for December 2020.
Being in the customs union with the European Union means that we cannot negotiate our own independent free trade agreements. If negotiating our future trade relationship with the EU required us to extend the transition period by a year, that could be seen as negative, but the reality is that negotiations with most major countries, such as China and the US, will take time to conclude. Does my right hon. Friend therefore agree that extending the transition period by a year would be better for securing independent free trade agreements than being stuck in an indefinite backstop?
I know that my hon. Friend has considerable experience, particularly on issues such as China, in which I know he takes a deep interest. The key point is that it will be a sovereign choice for the UK whether it extends the implementation period. He alludes to the fact that significant work is already going on. For example, the economic and financial dialogues the Treasury has with countries such as China, India and Brazil lay the groundwork for much of the trade discussions that colleagues in the Department for International Trade are concluding.
The Secretary of State for International Trade promised that he would have 40 trade deals ready to sign the day after we leave the European Union. What assessment has the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union made of his right hon. Friend’s progress on that?
I am both pleased and encouraged by the progress that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is making. The point is that, through the deal that the Prime Minister has negotiated, we now are in a position where we can pursue an independent trade policy. That is clear on page 1 of the political declaration. Part 5 of the political declaration sets out a clear timetable to put momentum into the discussions in order that we can not only negotiate and sign during the interim period but get to that future trade agreement with the European Union, which will allow us to start those trade agreements with the rest of the world.