Brexit boost as Australia seeks free trade deal with UK


Australia has called for a free trade deal with Britain as soon as possible in a Brexit boost for Prime Minister Theresa May.

In a Saturday phone call, Mrs May spoke to her Australian counterpart Malcolm Turnbull, who expressed his desire to open up trading between the two Commonwealth countries as a matter of urgency.

The new PM described the call as "very encouraging" and insisted it showed leaving the European Union could work for Britain.

She tasked newly-appointed International Trade Secretary Liam Fox to begin exploring options but acknowledged that Britain could not sign any deals while it was still an EU member.

Mrs May said: "I have been very clear that this Government will make a success of our exit from the European Union.

"One of the ways we will do this is by embracing the opportunities to strike free trade deals with our partners across the globe.

"It is very encouraging that one of our closest international partners is already seeking to establish just such a deal.

"This shows that we can make Brexit work for Britain, and the new Secretary of State for International Trade will be taking this forward in the weeks and months ahead.

"Britain is an outward-looking and globally-minded country, and we will build on this as we forge a new role for ourselves in the world."

On Friday, Mrs May said told Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon she would not trigger Article 50 to leave the EU before getting UK-wide agreement - a potentially difficult objective given that Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the bloc.

But Dr Fox claimed numerous non-EU countries had already asked Britain for a trade deal and said he was "scoping about a dozen free trade deals outside the EU to be ready for when we leave", amid reports that he was preparing to fly to the United States next week

He told the Sunday Times: "We've already had a number of countries saying, 'We'd love to do a trade deal with the world's fifth biggest economy without having to deal with the other 27 members of the EU'."

Meanwhile, Brexit Secretary David Davis said EU citizens may be blocked from staying in Britain permanently even if they arrive before the country leaves the union.

He said the Government may have to take a tough line with EU immigrants who come to the UK before Brexit happens, and therefore get the automatic right to stay permanently under free movement rules.

Mrs May has said immigration could rise in the short term if EU citizens feel they need to get to Britain before it leaves and can impose controls on European immigration.

Asked about a potential spike in immigration numbers, Mr Davis told the Mail on Sunday: "We may have to deal with that.

"There are a variety of possibilities.

"We may have to say that the right to indefinite leave to remain protection only applies before a certain date. But you have to make those judgments on reality, not speculation."

He stopped short of guaranteeing the status of EU nationals already in the country, a position for which Mrs May has received fierce criticism from across the political spectrum.

Mr Davis said: "We will get a generous settlement for EU migrants here now and a generous settlement for British citizens in the EU."

He also reasserted his belief that the EU would grant Britain access to the single market as well as a suspension of free movement rules, something which European leaders have so far ruled out.

"Everybody is taking starting positions," Mr Davis said. 

"Of course they are talking tough. If I was negotiating to buy your house or your car my first offer wouldn't be my final one, would it?" 

He is part of a triumvirate of Brexit-backing new Cabinet ministers, alongside Dr Fox and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, tasked with pulling the country out of the EU.

Mr Davis admitted that "even within government there'll be tensions" over Brexit, but revealed of his new job: "'If you'd said six months ago I would be sitting here doing this with Theresa as Prime Minister I would have said you must be on something. It still feels dream-like."

Elsewhere Mr Johnson, who will travel to Brussels for an EU foreign ministers summit beginning on Monday, insisted the country can now become "Global Britain".

He wrote in the Sunday Express that leaving the EU "gives us a chance not just to do new trade deals, but to think of ourselves once again as a truly Global Britain using our unique voice - humane, compassionate, principled - to do good around the world, and to exploit growth markets to the full."