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#ConsumerCorner: Trade takeover - Interview with Caroline Read, UK Deputy Ambassador to the EU

Caroline Read graphic
23 January 2024
Public Affairs

This blog was co-written with Antonio Pilati (SEC Newgate EU) and first published as part of SEC Newgate EU's #TradeViews series

With the support of our trade colleagues in Brussels, we had a chat with the British Deputy Ambassador to the EU Caroline Read, benefiting from her experiences in a variety of economic offices for the UK Government. We talked about post-Brexit EU-UK cooperation, data protection, and how to maximise trade opportunities… including from her own Oxfordshire.  

  1. The post-Brexit frictions around trade have been widely reported on but now that the Windsor framework has had the time to bed down, how do you feel this has helped remove non-tariff barriers?  

The Windsor Framework is a good deal for Northern Ireland, the rest of Great Britain and the EU, solving the practical issues of the old Protocol. The agreement delivers the smooth flow of trade within the United Kingdom. Goods destined for Northern Ireland are travelling through a new Green Lane, with a separate Red Lane for goods at risk of moving onto the EU. We are getting on with implementing the framework and as it beds in, we have already seen old barriers ease for business.  

For example, the Framework has already ensured that Northern Ireland now benefits from the same VAT, Alcohol Duty and energy taxes as the rest of the United Kingdom, and the schemes we opened in October, when we rolled out phase one of the green lane, have cut red tape and lifted bans on everyday products such as sausages.  

Now, the new arrangements mean that more companies and popular brands can use the green lane, scrapping burdensome and costly requirements of the old Protocol. Alongside our colleagues in the UK, we are continuing to engage extensively with businesses to help them adapt to the new arrangements. 

In addition to the Windsor Framework, 2023 saw several significant and positive agreements between the UK and EU, all of which are helping to smooth trade and remove burdens for businesses in both the UK and EU. The UK’s association to Horizon, our agreement to extend zero-tariff trade for electric vehicles and batteries to the end of 2026, and the MoU on Financial Services all demonstrate our commitment to cooperating with the EU and providing a stable, business-friendly environment for trade.  

  1. Looking ahead to the future, and with the review of the UK–EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) scheduled for 2026, what are the UK’s priorities?   

The TCA provides certainty and clarity for businesses and the public on our trading relationship with the EU. It is the world’s largest zero tariffs and zero quotas deal, providing the right balance between access to our biggest market and autonomy to set rules in our best interest. 

As such, we at the UK Mission in Brussels, and across the UK Government, are focused on maximising the opportunities of the TCA and expect it to remain the basis of our relationship with the EU. 2023 has shown how we can work collaboratively with the EU to develop our relationship in areas of mutual interest, and we remain open to ideas for taking it even further.  

Indeed, the British Foreign Secretary and Executive Vice President Šefčovič recently met here in Brussels to discuss maximising the opportunities of the TCA, and we expect these conversations to continue. Our priorities will remain to maximise trade opportunities between the UK and the EU and to work cooperatively together.   

  1. The UK is working on a reform of its data protection law. It has been argued that this softer approach to data protection may lead the European Commission to withdraw its adequacy decision. Do you see this as a real risk, with a potential Schrems effect on cross-Channel data flows?   

Maintaining our high data protection standards and protecting the privacy of individuals is, and will continue to be, a national priority for the UK. Our updated data protection framework will continue to be regulated and enforced by our world-leading, independent regulator, the Information Commissioner’s Office. 

The UK’s Data Protection and Digital Information Bill seeks to ensure our data protection reforms improve public service delivery, reduce barriers to businesses and enable the better use of data. The Bill builds on key elements of the UK GDPR, maintaining data protection principles with which all organisations must comply; and the rights people have in relation to their data.  

Our amended framework will continue to have many similarities to the EU GDPR and the European Commission has been clear that a third country is not required to have exactly the same rules as the EU to be considered adequate. 

In the spirit of our constructive relationship with the EU, we are keeping the Commission updated on our data protection framework and will continue to engage with them closely on reciprocal arrangements. 

  1. Finally, as someone who grew up in Oxfordshire, what brilliant Oxfordshire products do you want to see exported to Europe in greater numbers?   

I grew up on the borders of three counties, Gloucestershire, Oxfordshire and Wiltshire – though you may be more familiar with ‘the Cotswolds’, an area that straddles all three county borders and that’s known for its quaint villages and rolling hills: beautiful, but of course when I was a teenager, I perhaps didn’t appreciate it as much as I should.  

Although I am slightly biased, I think the region has so much to offer from a trade and business aspect. Start-ups, SMEs and large companies flourish across the three counties, thanks to excellent entrepreneurial communities and local government support.  

With the University of Oxford being central to the region, businesses benefit from the expertise it brings. Oxfordshire’s business community is uniquely positioned to be focused on research and innovation, steeped in some of the best education the UK has to offer.  

One thing already being exported across Europe is medical devices and pharmaceuticals. Pioneering British innovations, such as seasonal influenza vaccines, play an important part in providing pandemic preparedness and response for UK and European citizens. I think that is something for us to be immensely proud of. 

Oxford is also home to the original production plant for the Mini, which celebrated its 110th anniversary in 2023, while Gloucestershire produces of some of the world’s most advanced electrical systems for hybrid vehicles.  

And I was delighted to get in my Christmas stocking, a bottle of Cotswold Cream Liqueur: there are a number of distilleries in the area, which I’m sure will continue to grow in popularity!