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Fri, 5 June 2020

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The Government must reassess its choice to exclude DIT from the foreign affairs review

The Government must reassess its choice to exclude DIT from the foreign affairs review

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3 min read

International trade will help shape the UK’s position in the world. By neglecting this core department, the Government risks undermining the credibility of the upcoming Integrated Review.

The Integrated Review of security, defence, development and foreign policy promises to be a landmark moment for this Government. The concept of a post-Brexit “Global Britain” is much talked about – but if it is to mean anything substantive, initiatives like this review have to lay solid policy foundations.

It would seem self-evident that trade has a central role to play in this process. Indeed, the prospect of the UK carving out “an independent trade policy for the first time in decades” was among the reasons put forward by the Government for undertaking the review. 

Despite this, the Department for International Trade (DIT) is not mentioned as one of the departments to be included in the process. 

One of DIT’s objectives is to “use trade and investment to underpin the Government’s agenda for a Global Britain and its ambitions for prosperity, stability and security worldwide”. If trade and investment are to be vital parts of pursuing key UK strategic goals, why omit from this high-profile Government initiative the very department responsible for trade and investment policy? 

As chair of the International Trade Select Committee, I have a particular interest in getting an answer to this question – but I’m not alone among committee chairs in asking it. 

Three of my fellow chairs have written to the prime minister seeking more information about the review. Sarah Champion (international development), Tobias Ellwood (defence) and Tom Tugendhat (foreign affairs) wrote to the prime minister on 10 March, following an initial exchange of letters, with a short but incisive list of questions. Among them: why is international trade not included within the remit of the review?

The three chairs further drew attention to the lack of published terms of reference detailing the strategic issues to be addressed, as well as the absence of information about the timeframe for the review’s completion and the expected output. 

Inquiries undertaken in the last Parliament by the International Trade Committee established clear links between trade and investment policy and the policy priorities of other departments. For example, our inquiry ‘Trade and the Commonwealth: developing countries’ looked closely at the link between trade and development objectives. 

As part of our other work, we also explored the close links between DIT and the Foreign Office – with staff from these departments often working closely together overseas. 

In this Parliament, as a newly established committee, we will be looking at the Government’s proposals for free ports, which are said to epitomise the potential of Global Britain. 

With all this in mind, it seems bizarre that the terms of reference for this review do not envisage trade policy, and the department responsible for its development, playing a central role.

If this review is to be meaningful, it is vital that the Government reassess its choice not to include DIT in its list of the participating departments. By neglecting a core department involved in shaping the UK’s position in the world, the Government risks undermining the robustness of this review and the credibility of its findings.

 

Angus B MacNeil is SNP MP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar and chair of the International Trade Committee

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Foreign affairs