U.K. wants free trade deal with Canada, high commissioner says

Britain's high commissioner is open to signing a free trade deal with Canada now that the United Kingdom has opted out of the European Union.

'We'll be strongly pro-free trade outside the European Union,' Howard Drake says

U.K. High Commissioner to Canada Howard Drake said Friday that Britain will go it alone on trade agreements after the Brexit vote, adding the U.K. will not cease to be a trading nation after it pulls out of the European Union. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Britain's high commissioner is open to signing a free trade deal with Canada now that the United Kingdom has opted out of the European Union.

Howard Drake said Britain will go it alone on trade agreements after the Brexit vote, adding the U.K. will not cease to be a trading nation. "We're an island. We'll be strongly pro-free trade outside the European Union," he said in an interview with Chris Hall on CBC Radio's The House.

"We'll be looking to make trade deals with other countries around the world, including Canada. Other countries that are currently outside the EU do have very good trading relationships and trade agreements with other countries, so we can be the same. We have a lot to bring to the party," he said, noting Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Pierre Poilievre said Friday the Liberal government should "immediately conclude" a trade deal with Britain, but that would be a difficult task given the country remains a member of the EU for the foreseeable future — at least two years — as it hammers out an exit strategy.

Drake also signalled that the Commonwealth of Nations — the organization of 53 mostly former British colonies and territories — could play a more robust role in Britain's foreign policy in a post-Brexit world.

"We have always believed that the Commonwealth has a significant role," he said. "Canada, the relationship, as we all know, is extraordinarily close. We have a unique relationship between us, given our history."

Leave campaigner Boris Johnson holds a press conference in London after Britain voted to exit the EU in a national referendum. (Stefan Rousseau/Associated Press)

Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London and a vocal proponent of the Leave campaign, has floated the idea of bolstering the Commonwealth, and easing the movement of peoples between the former colonies — an idea that has broad support among Canadians.

'It's not a disaster'

Despite the shock vote, Canada and the EU are still in the final stages of concluding the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which was hammered out by the former Harper government and vocally supported by Liberal International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Britain was a big backer of the deal, but it now risks being left out of the final agreement if it opts out of the EU before its impending enactment.

It's not the only deal that could be dead in the water after the Brexit vote. There are nearly 40 trade deals between the EU and other jurisdictions the world over.

"Great Britain now has to negotiate its own agreement with Canada.… That's a complicated process," Werner Wnendt, the German ambassador to Canada, said in a separate interview with Hall.

"What we can tell everybody in Canada … is this is not a good day for Europe, the European Union, for the world, because it's a moment of uncertainty in a world that is already a dangerous one, a difficult one, we know there are many crises," he added.

Wnendt said Britain's departure will not leave Canada without a friend around the table in Brussels, adding Germany sees little or no change to the bilateral relationship.

"It's not a disaster. It's doable. The immediate impact on our relationship, Germany's relationship, or the Canada-EU relationship, will not be that visible. We will go ahead with strengthening our relationship."

Featured VideoGerman Ambassador to Canada Werner Wnendt discusses how the European Union will tackle the challenges it will face in the aftermath of the Brexit referendum.

Jean Charest, the former premier of Quebec, and an early supporter of CETA, said it now falls to the French to pick up the pieces.

"One irony about [CETA] is that the British were never, at the outset, very involved in the deal," he said.

"Actually it was the French government of [former president] Jacques Chirac who was the first government to support the negotiations. I've been pushing personally that the French appropriate their ownership of this deal and move ahead," he said. "It must go ahead."

Canadian Tories voice support for Leave

A number of prominent members of Canadian Conservatives voiced their support for Leave during the referendum campaign, including Andrew Scheer and Jason Kenney.

Kenney took to Twitter Thursday night as the results rolled in to celebrate the vote.

Drake said he did not make much of their support for the Leave camp.

"Politicians say what they want to say. We all know, whether it's Liberals or NDP or Conservatives, everyone knows how close the Canada-U.K. relationship is, so I don't think it plays into it. That's a matter for them," saying it would "not at all" have an effect.