New Zealand’s deputy prime minister has said the UK government is not ‘match fit’ for negotiations over a post-Brexit trade deal.
Winston Peters, who leads the New Zealand First party and is in a coalition government with Jacinda Ardern, said he was ‘very frustrated’ with the progress.
But Peters, who has reportedly hired Leave.EU to help with his election campaign, blamed the EU for the government’s inability to negotiate a deal at pace.
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‘We’ve had to look offshore for a long time and so we are seriously match fit when it comes to that, in a way that I don’t believe that the UK is, because the UK has been locked up in the EU all these years,’ he said.
‘And in terms of their trading skills and finesse and their firepower – without being critical – they’ve never had an outing lately.
‘They’ve never had a test, so to speak. It’s like coming into an Ashes contest when you haven’t played for 30 years – it’s the same thing in the UK when it comes to this.’
He added: ‘Here we are out here in the South Pacific, ourselves and Australia, and we believe we’re totally match fit and ready to go.
‘We just need the British to realise that you can do more than one deal at a time.’
He suggested that Theresa May’s government had allowed ‘inertia’ to set in while focused on Brexit.
‘Where you have a decision to leave the EU and you don’t have leading the exiting party, a prime minister committed to the departure it’s somewhat predictable that inertia would set in.
‘And that’s what we’ve been witnessing from our part of the world until Boris (Johnson) turned up.’
In June, Johnson celebrated the launch of trade talks with a series of videos on social media, calling it a ‘big moment’.
He said: ‘We have a fantastic opportunity now to bring our two countries closer than ever before.’
A second round of trade talks with New Zealand is planned for October after initial negotiations in July.
Peters’ comments come after it emerged talks on a UK-Japan trade deal had hit a snag over the treatment of Stilton cheese.
A Department for International Trade [DIT] spokesperson said: ‘We are excited by the possibility of a free trade deal, the first round of talks with New Zealand were positive and productive. We’re a step closer to reaching a comprehensive trade deal to boost trade and investment between our like-minded economies.
‘DIT is focused on securing Free Trade Agreements that secure benefits for every region and nation of the UK and talks are up and running.’