Prime Minister Scott Morrison insists Australia’s trade relationships with Britain and the European Union are in safe hands after Brexit plans plunged into chaos in the UK parliament.
British MPs voted 432-202 on Wednesday morning Australian time against Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal for the UK to leave the EU, delivering her government a devastating blow.
Mr Morrison said Australia had been working since the UK referendum to ensure market access to Europe and Britain under current arrangements and into the post-Brexit future.
“Australians should feel reassured that a safe and steady pair of hands has been managing what is a very uncertain and unstable set of arrangements,” the prime minister told reporters in Vanuatu on Wednesday.
Mr Morrison said while the direct economic impacts on Australia were limited, the situation highlighted uncertainty in global trade which needed strong domestic financial management.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the government had a “belt and braces” approach to Brexit, with negotiations ongoing with the EU and a working group established with the UK to keep trade ticking along.
“These are quite extraordinary and uncertain times,” he told ABC Radio National on Wednesday.
“It could lead in any number of directions it seems from here, with just 73 days to go now until the scheduled date for Brexit to take effect.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the uncertainty was bad for the British people, but urged Australia to focus on trade opportunities.
“I think what we’ve got to do is make sure we maintain good relationships with Europe and with Britain, and we get the advantages we can for our businesses,” Mr Shorten told the Nine Network.
He said if elected prime minister he could work with either Ms May or Opposition Leader Jeremy Corbyn to advance Australian interests.
The date set in law for Brexit – March 29 – now looms, with Britain deeply divided over if the country should leave Europe or how to do it.