Politics latest: 'You have to make trade-offs' - minister defends trade deal amid criticism of 'outrageous' measure (2023)

Key points
  • UK to join Indo-Pacific trade bloc in what government says is biggest deal since Brexit
  • Rob Powell: A post-Brexit triumph or a miserly replacement for what we had with the EU?
  • 'You have to make trade-offs': Trade secretary defends lowering tariffs on palm oil
  • PM praises 'opportunities for new jobs, growth and innovation'
  • Who else is in the CPTPP - and what are the benefits for the UK?
  • Listen:Life after Labour for Jeremy Corbyn
  • Live reporting by Tim Baker


Polling day looms in this year's local elections

Voters across England will go to the polls on 4 May in this year's set of local elections.

This chart shows the local authorities where people will be casting ballots:

This is the largest part of the four-year local council electoral cycle, with the previous elections taking place in 2019.

There are elections in 4,831 wards for 8,057 seats in 230 councils.

This includes metropolitan boroughs, unitary councils as well as district councils in the shires.

Most of them are being defended by the Conservatives:


Is this new trade agreement a post-Brexit triumph or a miserly replacement for what we had with the EU?

Depending on who you listen to, the UK's accession into CPTPP is either a triumph for post-Brexit global Britain or a miserly replacement to what we had with the EU.

So which is it?

The honest answer - as unsatisfying as it may be - is both and neither.

The government's own impact assessment puts the economic boost of this trade deal at just 0.08%.

Contrast that with the Office for Budget Responsibility's forecast of a 4% reduction in economic growth caused by Brexit, and it's clear CPTPP doesn't slot into the gap once filled by EU membership.

But nor should it, because this deal is a completely different beast to what we had in Europe.

While standards still matter, the emphasis on countries mirroring each other's rules that dominated EU talks isn't there with CPTPP.

That's why ministers say the UK will still be able to maintain agricultural standards and block things like hormone-injected beef from Canada.

So if this isn't a case of "the deal is done, let the good times roll", what is the upside?

For the government, CPTPP is more of a strategic and symbolic win.

The trade secretary characterised it as "getting in early" with a start-up business that will go onto great things.

Those "great things" are a boom in middle-class consumers in the region and potentially new and bigger countries joining the block in the future.

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Then there's the diplomatic context.

This deal can be seen as part of a broader UK pivot to the Indo-Pacific region that was kicked off by the Integrated Review of foreign policy and built on by the AUKUS defence pact with Australia and the USA.

Part of the reason for this is building a presence in regions where Beijing wields great influence.

So given China wants to join CPTPP, it will now eventually fall to the UK and allies like Australia to decide whether to allow what would be a controversial accession to the block.

As the chancellor put it today, "that shows that our influence in this part of the world is becoming more significant".


Using force on child asylum seekers 'may unfortunately be necessary', says Home Office

The government put out a number of documents yesterday - including various summaries of how different proposed laws would work.

One of those was about how child asylum seekers would be treated under the Illegal Migration Bill, which is currently before parliament.

In its explanation, the government states that - as under current law - "reasonable force" will be allowed for immigration officers to "exercise their powers".

The factsheet said: "Using force on children would be an absolute last resort and would only be used if completely necessary.

"Using force on children in family groups may unfortunately be necessary if a family is resisting removal - our policy on this will be under review and we will conduct a targeted consultation, including with the children's commissioner, before making any changes."

As well as this, the government notes it will have the power to remove children under 18 from the UK if they so choose.

This could be done if the child came through or originated from a "safe country" - like Albania.

But the government said such powers would be used rarely.

Instead, the authorities will wait until the youngsters turn 18 before removing them from the UK.


'You have to make trade-offs': Minister defends lowering tariffs on palm oil

As part of UK joining the CPTPP, the UK has agreed to slash its tariffs on Malaysian palm oil from 2% to 0%.

Palm oil production in Malaysia is responsible for deforestation and a reduction in the numbers of orangutans.

But the trade secretary played down the impacts that cutting the tariffs would have.

She told Sky News: "You have to make trade-offs.

"But we take in already just about 1%, it's actually slightly less than 1%, of Malaysian palm oil exports.

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"Moving the tariff from 2% to 0% is not what's going to cause deforestation.

"And actually, the standards which are set by this government, by the department for the environment, is what's going to dictate what comes into the country.

"But also being in the trade bloc means that we're going to have more influence on sustainability.

"Palm oil is actually a great product. It's in so many of the things we use. This is not some illegal substance we're talking about."

Unsurprisingly, environmental groups are not happy with the situation.

Daniela Montalto, forests campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said: "This is outrageous.

"Palm oil is still a major driver of deforestation in climate critical forests across Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua, so cutting palm oil tariffs will only incentivise further destruction.

"It makes a total mockery of the UK government's legislation to tackle deforestation in UK supply chains and runs completely counter to the government's promise to put the environment at the very heart of trade.

"Prioritising people and the climate means introducing binding targets, legislation and fiscal measures to reduce production and consumption of products linked to forest destruction to allow these critical natural ecosystems to recover - crucial if we are to stay below 1.5C."


Liz Truss welcomes CPTPP deal

Britain's shortest serving prime minister, and the former trade secretary, has welcomed the UK joining the CPTPP.

In a short thread on Twitter, Ms Truss noted that she made the application to join the trade group two years ago.

She added: "I'm delighted negotiations are complete, deepening UK access to some of the world's fastest-growing economies: #GlobalBritain in action and an important counterweight to those who seek to undermine our values."


View new trade deal as like investing in a start-up 'which is going to grow' - trade secretary

Kemi Badenoch, who is business and trade secretary, has spoken to us about the government's newly agreed deal to join the CPTPP.

She played down the fact that government analysis showed the benefits to joining will amount to just 0.08% of GDP.

This compares to a 4% decrease due to the UK leaving the EU.

Ms Badenoch pointed out that the numbers are from her own department - and she asked the exact same questions about why the UK was doing this.

"And then they gave the context of the figures," she said.

"It was a scoping assessment done two years ago based on 2014 figures.

"It's sort of a rough draft of where you want to start from.

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"But the thing I would want your viewers to understand is this is not to replace EU trade, it's in addition to EU trade.

"We have an EU [free trade agreement], every day we're working to make it better, but we're also able to do more on the outside of the EU.

"And that's what this is about.

"So people should look at these projections in terms of buying a start-up, which is going to grow and become huge in the future.

"It's not about what it's making today, but about the potential, the synergies. And that's why it's really exciting."

Ms Badenoch pointed out that in around seven years' time around 40% of the "global middle class" will live in the Indo-Pacific, and the UK was creating "new pathways" for easier trade.


Labour 'cautiously welcome' UK joining CPTPP - and frontbencher indicates party would not withdraw from it if in power

Pat McFadden, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, has been speaking to us about the UK joining a new Indo-Pacific trade deal.

He told Sky News that sometimes the detail of trade deals signed by the government are "not quite as advantageous as the government has first claimed".

Mr McFadden said: "We support free and open trade, so we'd give this a welcome, but also a cautious welcome.

"Because what we've experienced over the past few years is that when the government has signed trade deals, very often once you look at the detail, they're not quite as advantageous as the government has first claimed.

"But on the face of it, this can give us new opportunities to trade with fast-growing economies around the world.

"British business, British companies, have great strengths - so having access to a new and growing markets could be a boost to the economy.

"Although I do know that in the government's own press release, the boost in the estimate to the economy looks pretty small over the next ten years."

This boost is said to be equivalent to be around £1.8bn by the end of the decade.

Asked if Labour would keep the deal, Mr McFadden said it was "really important" that international partners did not think any agreements signed with the current administration would be torn up by a "successor".

He pointed out the damage done to the UK's international reputation by the government threatening to set parts of its deal with the EU aside unilaterally.

"That's not the approach that the Labour Party or a Labour government would take," Mr McFadden said.


'Underlying resilience' in UK economy - chancellor

Jeremy Hunt has been reacting to the news that the UK economy grew by 0.1% last quarter, avoiding a technical recession.

He said: "These figures show there is an underlying resilience in the UK economy, which is obviously a good thing.

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"But we should also remember that families up and down the country are facing real pressure, which is why we introduced a windfall tax - which means that about half the bill of the average family is being paid, a total of £3,000 of support.

"And the root cause of this pressure is something that hasn't changed today - which is inflation is still more than 10%.

"And that's why we will continue to take the difficult decisions necessary to bring down inflation caused by what's happened in Ukraine.

"That is the way we will get back to healthy growth and relieve the pressure on families."


Confirmation UK avoids recession as economy grew 0.1% in Q4 of 2022

The UK economy grew slightly in the last financial quarter, confirming the country avoided recession in the second half of last year.

Office for National Statistics (ONS) revisions to economic data covering the fourth quarter of 2022 showed growth of 0.1%.

The original estimate for gross domestic product (GDP) between October and November, released in mid-February, had shown zero growth.

The cost of living crisis took a heavy toll on consumer spending, especially during the crucial Christmas month.

December's drag, also partly due to the impact of strikes, proved crucial in the ONS revisions.

The economy has since performed better than expected despite the continuing sting from inflation, which remains in double digits.

Updated predictions last week from the Bank of England, which had forecast that the economy entered recession in the second half of last year, ruled out the likelihood of a recession in 2023.

Read more here:


Who else is in the CPTPP - and what are the benefits for the UK

The CPTPP is a trade bloc consisting of 11 countries -Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and Canada.

It grew out of a proposal from the US under Barack Obama, but Donald Trump pulled the nation out.

About 500 million people live in the bloc, which also represents around 13% of global GDP.

But estimates from the UK government suggest the benefits will amount to a less than 1% bump to UK GDP in 10 years time - around £1.8bn.

And the UK already has trade agreements with all the CPTPP nations, aside from Malaysia and Brunei.

The government says the deal is a gateway to the wider Indo-Pacific region, which has 60% of the world's population and is set to account for more than half of global economic growth in the decades ahead.

It says membership will also enable the UK to shape its development as more nations join and resist "unfair and coercive" trading practices.

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Ministers will likely face questions over how the UK's protections on food safety, animal welfare, the environment and data protection can be maintained under CPTPP rules.

Labour has warned that "the devil is in the detail", saying the government has struck a series of "desperately bad" trade deals since Brexit, including the agreement.


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