FORMER Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has called for a “one-page” free trade deal with the UK and greater visa access for Australians post-Brexit.
The one-time Remain supporter has changed his tune since the referendum result and is now backing a report that recommends opening up free-trade between the two countries.
Contributing to the Free Enterprise Group’s report Reconnecting with the Commonwealth, the former leader said “Brexit means that Britain is back” and outlined plans for a quick deal to ensure greater movement of goods and people.
“If Britain is determined to make the most of Brexit — and everything about Prime Minister May shows this steely determination — why not strive for a one-page FTA with Australia?”
“The movement of goods between our two countries should be absolutely free of tariffs or quotas. And each country’s product and service standards should be recognised in the other. If a car is fit to be sold in Britain, it’s fit to be sold in Australia. If a doctor is fit to practise in Australia, he or she is fit to practise in the UK,” he said.
“Provided people are coming to work rather than to take advantage of social security or health services, Australians should also be free to live in the UK and vice versa.”
The comments come as the UK scrambles to figure out what its relationship with the EU and rest of the world will be post-Brexit, with little certainty over whether the government favours staying in or out of the single market.
In January, the UK’s representative in Brussels, Sir Ivan Rogers, quit his post just two months before Britain was due to trigger Article 50, accusing the government of “muddled thinking” on the issue.
“We do not yet know what the government will set as negotiating objectives for the UK’s relationship with the EU after exit,” he wrote in a resignation letter sent to 1400 staff.
The Commonwealth accounts for a tiny proportion of total UK trade in goods and services with the top ten countries making up just eight per cent of the total, as opposed to around 45 per cent for the European Union.
However the UK remains an important trading partner for Australia, ranking 9th in terms of imports and exports and in the top three in terms of services, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Conservative MPs James Cleverly and Tim Hewish claim Brexit offers a chance for the UK to return to “free trading principles,” saying the Commonwealth has been “neglected” in this area for decades.
Mr Abbott said trade between two historically linked nations with much in common remains the “obvious” place to start.
The authors propose a five-phase approach that would include a scoping group for the possibility of freedom of movement for those on Tier 2 visas for citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK.
It claims the quota of 20,700 Tier 2 visas for skilled professionals “will need to change if free movement is altered for EU nationals.”
“Exploring this with a feasibility study and working group between these nations should be an option,” they said.
But free-trade advocates shouldn’t get their hopes up too soon. The MPs claim the “priorities will be deals with the EU and the United States as well as China who represent 44 per cent, 17 per cent, and 3.6 per cent of the UK’s total exports respectively.“
Australia is also in the process of scoping a free trade deal with Indonesia and the EU, which will take precedence over new deals in the pipeline.
Britain’s outgoing ambassador to the European Union said Prime Minister Theresa May’s negotiating objectives for Brexit were unknown to her government’s representatives in Brussels, the BBC says. Mia Womersley reports.