Blame Joe Biden for UK not meeting trade-deals pledge, says Government

President Joe Biden is to blame for the Tories missing their manifesto promise on free-trade agreements, the Government has suggested.

The Conservatives promised in their 2019 manifesto that 80 per cent of UK trade would be covered by free-trade agreements within three years.

But a minister indicated that their ability to meet this goal has been hampered by the US President’s decision to take a “different approach” to the previous White House administration when it comes to striking a trade deal with the UK.

Asked when the Government expects to meet the 80 per cent target, the Department for International Trade (DIT) said it is the “substance” of trade deals that counts, “not the timing”.

Answering on behalf of the Government, Nigel Huddleston, a minister at DIT, said: “It is important to remember that when the Government adopted this target the United States was in ongoing talks on a free-trade agreement [FTA] with the UK but has since taken a different approach to FTA talks under the Biden administration”.

Mr Huddleston added that the Government has secured trade agreements with 71 countries, as well as the EU, which accounted for 63 per cent of the UK’s bilateral trade in 2021.

The disclosure was made in response to a written parliamentary question submitted by Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary.

He told The Telegraph: “It’s so frustrating for me to see the failure of the Government in trade. We’ve just passed the end of 2022. That was the point at which 80 per cent of our trade was meant to be covered by free-trade agreements according to the 2019 Conservative manifesto.

“We didn’t make that, we failed. That was the moment for the delivery of the US deal – which  failed. And of course, there was that additional promise of a deal with India by Diwali, which was promised by Boris Johnson which didn’t happen either.”

Mr Thomas-Symonds was speaking ahead of a summit on Monday where Labour is hosting 100 ambassadors, diplomats and high commissioners – including from the US, Canada, France and Germany – as well as over 200 business leaders.

“Our big message is Labour is back in business, Labour is open for business,” he said. “We are pro-business, we are pro-trade.”

He accused ministers of delivering either “no deals or bad deals” since leaving the European Union.

But Mr Thomas-Symonds said that a Labour government would nonetheless honour any existing trade deals if it comes to power at the next election.

“The trade deals I inherit, I will operate, build on and try to assist exporters with exploiting the opportunities,” he said. “We have to do that because when we give our word as a country we have to stick to it. I think that’s really, really important for stability.”

Rishi Sunak has played down the prospect of any US trade deal in the near future, admitting that he did not discuss any bilateral trade deal at his first meeting with President Biden at the G20 summit in November.

Mr Sunak has said that he is “filled with optimism” about the relationship but suggested it might take years for any formal deal.

Meanwhile a senior US congressman has warned that while a bilateral trade deal between the US and the UK is “desirable”, it  will not progress while issues around the Northern Ireland protocol remain unresolved.

Richard Neal, chairman of the United States House Committee on Ways and Means that writes trade bills – meaning that a deal will not be approved without its support – said last year: “We will not entertain a trade agreement if there is any jeopardy to the Good Friday agreement.”