Tuesday 14 September 2021 / 10:24 AM Emily Thornberry

‘Listen to public concerns on trade’, Labour tells Liz Truss

‘Listen to public concerns on trade’, Labour tells Liz Truss


Labour has told Trade Secretary Liz Truss she must act on the concerns raised in a national opinion survey commissioned by her own department, after the results were slipped onto the Department for International Trade (DIT) website after midnight.


The ‘Public Attitudes to Trade’ survey has been produced annually for the DIT by BMG Research since October 2018. The latest was conducted between June and August 2020, with a sample size of 3,224 respondents, the biggest survey done to date. It showed:


  • Support for free trade agreements remains strong and consistent, with 63% of respondents saying free trade agreements will benefit the UK, the same as in 2019, but in the words of the BMG research report, “concerns are growing”;


  • Fewer than half of those surveyed in 2020 (49%) said they would support a trade deal with the United States, down from 62% in 2018, while the percentage of respondents actively opposed rose from 11% to 20%;


  • Asked to say what the government’s top priorities should be in trade negotiations with the US, the three most popular answers were: (i) maintaining current UK food standards (up from 30% in 2019 to 36%); (ii) protecting public services like the BBC and NHS (unchanged on 34%); and protecting UK farmers (up from 23% to 26%);


  • Support for trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand remains strong, with almost two-thirds in favour, the same as in 2019, but ‘maintaining current UK food standards’ for Australia and ‘protecting UK farmers’ for New Zealand were placed joint top of people’s priorities (both 28%) alongside ‘creating new jobs in the UK’; and


  • Awareness of the government’s flagship trade policy to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is growing but remains very low: 72% of people said they had never heard of it, or knew nothing about it, compared to 79% in 2019; and only 14% supported joining the CPTPP, up from 10% in 2019.


Labour’s Shadow International Trade Secretary, Emily Thornberry MP, said:


“Liz Truss may have tried to bury this survey in the dead of night, but she must not hide from the legitimate concerns being raised by the British people.


“First, there is still strong public support for trade deals, but the survey shows she risks putting that in jeopardy if she continues ignoring rising fears about the impact of her proposed deals on our farming communities, food standards and public services.


“And second, she needs to consider whether it is right for her to rush ahead with her plans to take our country into the Trans-Pacific Partnership when – according to her own survey – almost three-quarters of the British people still know nothing about it.”