Theresa May has been forced to defend her appointment of “trade envoys” to champion the UK’s bilateral relationships after a senior Conservative figure called for them to be sacked as a result of their opposition to Brexit.
The former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said it was unacceptable that so many of the 21 appointees, who are not paid for their roles but do have expenses covered, had not supported the government’s position on leaving the EU.
“It is quite absurd that at the moment the UK leaves the EU and starts to make new free trade deals, we should have as our trade representatives people who are viscerally opposed to Brexit,” he told the Brexit Central website.
“It is quite unacceptable and high time we appointed new people who believe that what we are doing is positive and full of new opportunity. We should act immediately – we haven’t a moment to lose.”
Among those highlighted by the website include Rushanara Ali, Labour’s MP for Tower Hamlets, who has responsibility for Bangladesh, but who voted against the triggering of article 50 and said it would be dangerous to leave the single market and customs union.
Lib Dem peers Lady Northover and Lady Bonham-Carter have also been highlighted for allegedly backing a “wrecking amendment” to the article 50 bill, but still remaining as envoys to Angola and Mexico respectively.
Labour’s Lord Faulkner of Worcester, who is an envoy to Taiwan, has also been picked out for backing an amendment that would require the UK to remain in the single market.
The envoys were appointed by David Cameron and then had their positions renewed by Theresa May with an expectation to “engage with one or more emerging markets where substantial trade and investment opportunities have been identified by UK government”.
The individuals were chosen as a result of experience and relationships with countries or key industries. For example, Ali visited Bangladesh last December in a visit that resulted in a £5.7bn deal between a British rail company and the Bangladesh railway authorities.
A government spokesman defended the positions, saying: “The trade envoy programme is a cross-party network of parliamentarians from both houses whose role is promoting trade and investment between the UK and overseas markets. The voluntary roles are appointed by the prime minister and all envoys bring a wealth of experience to help support British businesses in growing and succeeding internationally.”