Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, who supports the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, said Tuesday that while he believes in preparing for eventualities, now is not the time to conclude a free trade agreement between Canada and the U.K.
“Obviously, nothing can happen until a final decision is taken on the European Union, so obviously nothing concrete will happen until that happens,” Scheer said Tuesday on Parliament Hill.
When asked whether he thinks Canada should let the concessions it made in the existing Canada–EU trade deal stand — despite the fact that, in preparation for a now likely no-deal Brexit, the U.K. is preparing to allow the vast majority of its imports from other countries to enter Britain tariff-free — Scheer said he would not “play the pundit on the current dynamic of the United Kingdom.”
‘No point’ in finalizing deal now
Last week, his predecessor, former interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, told CBC News Network’s Power & Politics there was “no point” in Canada finalizing a trade deal with the U.K. at this point.
The value of a preferential trade deal for Canada with the U.K. would be undermined if countries that don’t have a deal in place essentially get the same tariff treatment Canada gets.
CBC News reported last week that a year ago, the Trudeau cabinet approved a finalized proposal to continue to apply most of the measures now in effect provisionally under the the Canada–EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) to its future trade with an independent United Kingdom.
But then last March, the British Parliament’s failure to approve a formal withdrawal agreement with the EU sparked fears of prices suddenly spiking for U.K. businesses and consumers under a ‘no-deal’ Brexit scenario. The U.K. government announced suddenly it would drop most of its import tariffs, without warning countries who were in the middle of U.K. trade negotiations, like Canada.
The unexpected development caused Canada to re-evaluate and hit pause. No further progress on a Canada–U.K. deal has been made.
‘Eager to sign’
“It’s always good to have open dialogue and to prepare for different eventualities,” Scheer said, when asked about the current state of the negotiations.
“I led a very successful trip to the United Kingdom last year talking about what Canada could do if in fact the United Kingdom was successful in leaving the European Union, and I sent the signal that our government would be eager to sign a trade deal with the United Kingdom.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnston’s government is hoping to finalize agreements with as many trading partners as possible before the next Brexit deadline on Oct. 31.
British supporters of Brexit have expressed frustration at countries like Canada “hedging their bets” on Brexit.
“Obviously it’s in the hands of British lawmakers,” Scheer said Tuesday. “I leave it to them to make the ultimate decisions.”
Earlier this year, the Liberals accused Scheer of “inexplicably supporting economic chaos” by voicing his support for Brexit.
Scheer acknowledged that it’s up to the Trudeau government to decide what Canada should do in the short term, and then “we’ll see” what happens after Canada’s Oct. 21 election.
A future Conservative government would “pursue an aggressive trading relationship with other countries that we’ve had longstanding partnerships with,” Scheer said Tuesday, adding “it would be wise for any government to look at what could be done in advance.”