Britain wants copycat trade deals which have been shaped by the EU, Theresa May admitted today.
The Prime Minister laid out Brexit plans to copy and paste a raft of pacts signed by Brussels with other nations – rather than negotiate specialised arrangements.
The switch – announced as Mrs May jetted on a trade trip to Japan – marks the latest blow to Tory boasts about Britain striking out on its own after Brexit.
In a second blow, the government conceded reports that Japan is prioritising an EU deal over any trade pact with Britain. “It is right Japan focuses on concluding that deal,” a government spokesperson said.
Speaking to journalists on board her RAF Voyager plane to Japan, where she is embarking on a three-day trade mission, the PM said groundwork had already been laid by EU negotiators and the UK could simply rip them off.
She added: “We have been one of the member states sitting around the European Union table that has been pressing the EU to move forward on this deal with Japan.
“We think this is an important deal for the EU and, yes, when we leave the European Union we are looking – there is obviously a number of trade deals that the EU has with other countries and we are looking at the possibility of those being able to be brought over into – certainly initially – trade deals with the United Kingdom.
“That I think will give business certainty, which is what business wants at the point at which we live.”
The reliance on EU groundwork comes despite Mrs May pushing the idea of a “global Britain” and detaching the country from the EU customs union and single market.
Mrs May is travelling in Japan with 15 business leaders, including top bosses from Aston Martin, Barclays Capital Investments and the Scotch Whisky Association.
It is the Tory leader’s latest bid to drum up support for a post-Brexit trade deal, as talks between the UK and EU continue in Brussels.
“I have always said that I think a good trade deal is not just about the UK, it’s also about what is good for businesses in what will be the 27 remaining states of the EU as well,” said Mrs May.
“I think it’s in all our interests to move forward on to those trade talks and to get that good deal.”
EU officials are demanding details on how much Britain is prepared to stump up as part of its Brussels divorce, before talks switch to a future relationship.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said: “Theresa May is now admitting the best trade deals we can possibly hope for post-Brexit are the trade deals we already have as members of the EU.
“It’s a staggering climbdown.
“Brexiteers like Liam Fox promised a new dawn of improved trade deals across the world.
“Instead the government is fighting to keep what we have already.
“It begs the question why it is necessary to damage our economy by leaving the single market and customs union.”