Cabinet minister Liam Fox was accused of “abject failure” after it emerged just six of the 40 trade deals he promised will actually be signed in time for Brexit.
The trade secretary, who once said a free trade agreement with the EU would be the “easiest in human history”, had vowed to “roll over” 40 EU deals with 70 countries before Britain breaks from the bloc on March 29.
But, according to a document leaked to The Sun, Fox has secured just a handful and is now asking countries to sign non-binding “letters of understanding” instead.
During an urgent question in the Commons on the issue, tabled by shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner, Fox said many of the deal would go “down to the wire”.
The leaked document shows four trade deals in a ‘green column’ already agreed, with Switzerland, Chile, an Eastern and Southern African bloc, and the Faroe Islands.
Deals with Israel and the Palestinian Authority were marked as ‘on track’.
Amber warnings, signifying ‘deliverability by March 29 off-track’ were given to nine countries, including South Korea and Canada.
Those with no chance of being delivered – or ‘significantly off-track’ – were given red and black warnings, including those planned with Japan, Turkey and Mexico.
It comes as Fox faced criticism for refusing to rule out a move to zero tariffs on imported goods under a no-deal Brexit.
Labour says the move, which would give foreign competitors unprecedented access to UK markets, would give countries no incentive to sign a trade deal with the UK.
Former party leadership candidate Owen Smith, who supports the People’s Vote campaign for a second referendum, said: “Today’s revelations are not surprising – they are just the latest sign of the government’s abject failure to deliver on the promises made for Brexit.
“Liam Fox and other leading advocates of Brexit promised a ‘Global Britain’ vision for the future if people voted to leave the EU, but the reality is very different – not only is our trade relationship with our largest trading partner, Europe, now in jeopardy, but Brexit is also damaging our trade with non-EU countries as well.”
The powerful US department of trade, meanwhile, is consulting on how to approach negotiations, with lobbyists demanding huge concessions on food standards and handing foreign firms the ability to sue the British state.
The Department for Trade has not denied the story, and said: “This does not reflect the whole picture: in 2018, around 12% of UK trade took place under EU Trade Agreements in force.
“We have already signed a number of agreements including with Switzerland, the largest of these. We continue to work to replicate as many of these as possible, until exit day, to ensure the maximum continuity of UK trade.
“Of course, the best way to ensure that all existing agreements continue to apply is to pass the Withdrawal Agreement.”