Johnson labelled ‘ludicrous’ over trade plans

Boris Johnson has been described as “ludicrous” by a former minister critical of the Government’s approach to post-Brexit trade deals.

Lord O’Neill of Gatley claimed it was “mad” that International Trade Secretary Dr Liam Fox and the Foreign Secretary “spend half their time travelling to New Zealand” rather than attempting to forge relationships with economic powerhouses like China.

Speaking to the German newspaper Die Welt, the independent crossbencher and former chief economist at Goldman Sachs justified his position by pointing out that China’s growth this year would match the entire Australian economy.

He said: “If you look at China’s growth in US dollar terms, the country will achieve a national economy the size of Australia this year. And four times New Zealand.

“And trade minister Liam Fox and our ludicrous foreign minister spend half of their time travelling to New Zealand. It is mad, mad.”

Lord O'Neill of Gatley. File picture

Image: Lord O’Neill said the pair should be building bridges with China instead

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable also piled in, saying Mr Johnson and Mr Fox do not understand how global trade works.

Sir Vince said: “The future of our country is resting in their hands yet they have shown time and time again that they have a chronic misconception of how the modern, globalised world works.”

He added: “Of course it is right to disown (US President Donald) Trump’s nationalistic and short-sighted approach to Pacific countries but far-flung trade deals will never compensate for leaving the world’s largest market sitting on our doorstep.”

The Die Welt interview was published as Dr Fox embarked on a three-day visit to China to promote British businesses and innovation.

Speaking in Beijing, the International Trade Secretary said “we want to be an open, outward-looking country” after Brexit.

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox

Image: International Trade Secretary Liam Fox is currently on a visit to China

He also addressed reports Britain has held informal talks about joining a Pacific trade group once the EU divorce comes into effect.

Dr Fox said that while it was “premature” to sign up to the 11-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership because the current agreement is being renegotiated, Britain will “keep an open mind” for the future.

Speaking to MPs before Christmas, Prime Minister Theresa May outlined plans to sign trade deals with non-EU countries during the anticipated two-year Brexit transition period.

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This is expected to begin in March 2019 if the divorce progress proceeds as scheduled.

As a result of Brexit, Britain will have the opportunity to negotiate its own bespoke free trade deals with countries around the world, rather than be bound by the agreements negotiated by the EU.