Liam Fox, the Secretary of State for International Trade, has cancelled the department's regular briefing with business leaders after details of a previous roundtable were leaked to the media.
The move comes following the reports that the department had informed business leaders during last month's briefing that the government could not guarantee that Britain would be covered by "most" of the EU's global network of trade agreements after Brexit and had asked to keep the information confidential.[optin-monster-shortcode id="wxhmli4jjedneglg1trq"]
Â In 2017, Mr Fox had claimed that before the country leaves the bloc, the department immediately roll over all the 40 free trade deals with 70 different countries, so they will still apply to the UK under a no deal Brexit, causing minimal disruption to the business. However, only seven - including agreements with Switzerland, Israel and some African nations - have been signed so far, while enough progress is unlikely before the deadline.
With less than four weeks left before the deadline, the Liberal Democrats were infuriated at the decision and questioned the motive behind the department's decision to suspend its roundtables with business. They also remarked that the government was leaving companies "in the dark".
The decision was also criticised by the Federation of Small Businesses, which said the government should keep the business in the loop about efforts by the UK to replicate the trade deals. Craig Beaumont, director of external affairs at FSB, remarked that withdrawal of information on the progress of potential deals is not the right approach. The government should be openly helping the people whose trade relies on them to prepare them for the worst scenarios. Another business official said that the government would not have been concerned about media leaks if it would have published as much as information as possible from the beginning.
Tom Brake, the Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesperson, said that a "bunker mentality" is taking over the Department for International Trade and further remarked that the minister had nothing to offer to the business and expressed his concern that the country will be shut out of key economies in Europe and around the world.
Recently, Liam Fox had floated an idea to cut tariff on all imports to zero in the case of no-deal Brexit, a move that could help maintain low prices at the expense of manufacturing industry which will struggle from the flood of cheap goods. The secretary unveiled his idea to industry leaders and plans to use executive powers to make tweaks in Trade Bill to slash tariffs on foreign goods. However, it has emerged that a government announcement on this matter has been delayed.
A trade department spokesperson commented that the government's priority is to minimise disruption to the country's trading relationships after it leaves the bloc, and so are seeking continuity for existing free trade agreements.
According to the new time backed by the British parliament, Mrs May would put her withdrawal agreement to a vote by March 12. In case the plan is not approved, the MPs will have an option to support a no-deal Brexit or request an extension to delay EU withdrawal beyond 29 March.