In Brief

MPs and peers rack up £430,000 trade bill

Hit to taxpayers which includes flights and hotels for 32 envoys doubled in year after Brexit vote

MPs and peers have racked up a bill of over £430,000 in three years, travelling around the world promoting trade deals, a freedom of information request from The Times has revealed.

The paper reveals that the cost to taxpayers, which covers flights, hotels and other costs for 32 trade envoys, more than doubled in the year after Britain voted to leave the EU.

The most costly was Richard Graham, the Conservative MP for Gloucester and envoy to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. He made 11 trips, costing more than £50,000, even though Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, has visited the region since taking up his role in 2016.

One four-day trip to Angola by Lib Dem peer Baroness Northover in 2017 cost £16,298, the most expensive single visit by any envoy during the period.

Labour MP Owen Smith, said: “Some serious questions need to be asked of the effectiveness of the government’s trade envoys, so we can be reassured that the thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money is doing more than boosting the use of champagne in business class lounges”.

Trade envoys have been active in promoting British business interests since 2012 but their importance has been greatly emphasised following the Brexit vote.

In a sign of just how difficult establishing new trade agreements after the UK leaves the EU could prove, the US ambassador to Britain has warned Donald Trump’s offer of a “quick, massive, bilateral trade deal” will not be possible if Theresa May's EU withdrawal agreement is approved.

Woody Johnson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme ministers and the prime minister had to “measure the impact of all the other trade offs” and how different trade agreements would benefit the UK.

It came as the prime minister used her New Year’s Day message to warn MPs the UK will be unable to start a “new chapter” unless they back her Brexit deal when it is put to a vote later this month.

However, the Daily Telegraph said May’s hopes of persuading MPs to back her deal “suffered a setback as Johnson said it would likely prevent a future trade deal with the US as he also suggested the nation was lacking a leader”.

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