'Australian trade to be a winner in post-Brexit world, Brandis says' Bevan Shields, Brisbane Times
London: Australia's top envoy in London says political obstacles in the path of a massive free-trade agreement between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump leave Prime Minister Scott Morrison as the frontrunner to strike the world's first post-Brexit economic deal with the United Kingdom.
High commissioner George Brandis also praised the Conservative Party's thumping general election victory as a "very good result for Australia" and compared Johnson's remarkable success across working-class middle and northern England to the support Morrison and John Howard received from blue-collar workers.
After visiting the Queen at Buckingham Palace, Johnson addressed the nation on Friday with an appeal for a divided Britain to move on from the turbulent years that have gripped the country since the 2016 Brexit referendum.
"I frankly urge everyone on either side of ... an increasingly arid argument, I urge everyone to find closure and to let the healing begin," Johnson said outside Downing Street.
"I know that after five weeks, frankly, of electioneering, this country deserves a break from wrangling, a break from politics and a permanent break from talking about Brexit."
His 80-seat majority – the best Conservative result since Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s – will ensure Britain's departure from the European Union by January 31. Johnson and EU officials will then have a year-long 'transition period' in which to renegotiate trade and immigration rules.
As the British public reckoned with the election result, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said he did "everything he could" to win and that he had "pride" in the party's manifesto.
Trump is eager for a "massive" trade deal between the US and UK, but negotiations will probably coincide with the 2020 presidential election and free trade remains an unpopular concept in parts of the Republican base.
Brandis said he would not characterise it as "a race" but said Australia was well placed to come through the middle and strike a deal with Westminster.
"No free-trade agreement is without its complexities, however the prospective FTA between Australia and the United Kingdom is probably less difficult than the other agreements the UK is looking to do, for instance with the United States," he said in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
"That's simply because the domestic politics of Australia are far more hospitable to free-trade agreements than the politics of the United States at the moment.
"This [election result] is a very good result for Australia, because it means that Brexit will occur and therefore the negotiation of the free-trade agreement will proceed.
"Had there been a change of government that free-trade agreement would have been in doubt."
He also took a swipe at defeated Corbyn, saying the election result meant the "broad, geo-strategic outlook of the UK will remain in close alignment with the Australian view".
Brandis, the attorney-general under prime ministers Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, said he would not "pre-empt" whether a deal between Australia and Britain could include visa-free migration between each country.
But former high commissioner Mike Rann predicted Johnson's post-election honeymoon would not last and warned of "years of wrangling and pain ahead" as Britain negotiates its new trading relationship with Europe.
"The EU will not and cannot give the UK all that it wants because it will not want other member nations joining the queue to leave and wanting the benefits of being in the EU but not the responsibilities," Rann said.
"Meanwhile there will be a dash by the UK to negotiate quick and dirty FTAs with others so they can badge up politically this new 'world-focused' Britain."
The final election count put the Conservatives on 365 seats, an increase of 47 seats from 2017 Labour's vote plunged 7.9 per cent and the party now holds only 203 seats in the 650-seat House of Commons – the worst result since 1935.
Traditional Labour areas in the Midlands and north-east England savaged Labour. In the Nottinghamshire constituency of Bassetlaw, Labour's vote collapsed by 25 per cent. Two dozen Labour seat switched to the Conservatives for the first time.
Brandis suggested the unexpected size of the new parliamentary majority would "strengthen Johnson's hand" in trade talks and said the Conservative leader's plea for unity was a realistic prospect.
"When you have a government with a stable majority, and a prime minister whose authority has been emphatically confirmed by a clear general election result, political stability and normalcy will return very fast."
MPs will return Westminster on Monday and the Queen's Speech, which marks the opening of a parliamentary session, will be held on Thursday.
Johnson is also preparing a minor cabinet reshuffle but a full overhaul isn't expected until early next year.
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