25 Jul

'Canberra eyes trade deal with UK ‘within weeks’ of Brexit' Ben Packham, The Australian

Australia is ready to seal a free-trade deal with Britain within months “or even weeks” of a final Brexit outcome under new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, ­ Trade Minister Simon Birmingham says.

Senator Birmingham yesterday said it was hoped the trade agreement would restore much of the market access that Australia lost when Britain entered the common market in 1973.

He said Mr Johnson’s declaration that the Brexit date should not be moved beyond October 31 would establish a starting point for formal negotiations.

“The UK, technically, is not able to negotiate new trade agreements with other countries until they actually terminate their Customs union with the EU,” he said.

“But we would move as swiftly as we can. We already put in place a trade working group between Australia and the UK to explore possibilities. And that will put us in a position where, if the UK wanted to get the deal done in a period of months, maybe even weeks, well, we would be willing to move as swiftly as they were able to.”

Australian farmers would be among the biggest winners from such a deal, while services businesses would also stand to gain.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne echoed Scott Morrison’s praise for Mr Johnson a day earlier, saying he had “a reputation for getting things done”.

“Brexit, though a matter for the UK government, is an opportunity for our two countries to reinvigorate our already strong economic partnership and we will be ready to launch negotiations on an FTA as soon as it is possible for the UK post-Brexit,” she said. “Despite the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, Australians can be assured we have been preparing for all eventualities, including a ‘no-deal’.”

Queensland Liberal senator James McGrath, who served as a senior staffer to Mr Johnson when he was London mayor, yesterday said he believed his former boss would be good for Australia. “He’s been to Australia quite a few times. He’s a friend of Australia,” Senator McGrath told Sky News. “He’s Prime Minister now of our closest ally; it is good news for Australia.”

Former foreign minister Julie Bishop also said Mr Johnson would “rise to the occasion”.

“I developed a good working relationship with him over many years. I have seen him in action in forums around the world and it would be a huge mistake to underestimate him, as many critics do,” she said. “Boris Johnson has a close relationship with Australia for a British Prime Minister. He spent his gap year here, attending Geelong Grammar. He knows many Australian politicians and figures well. He gave a marvellous speech at Sydney Town Hall in 2017 where he talked about his love and affection for Australia.

“We are well-positioned to have an even stronger relationship with Britain. Post-Brexit there will be an enormous opportunity to increase trade relationships with Britain and logical and strategic ties more generally.”

An expert in British politics, University of Sydney professor Simon Tormey, cautioned that Britain and its new Prime Minister could be quickly headed into a general election, depending on how Brexit plans played out.

“Australians are going to have to sit tight and wait to see how this political crisis plays out, to see to what extent there’s going to be any impact in terms of ­British-­Australia relations,” he said.

Ben Packham, The Australian.

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Additional reporting: AAP

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