Australia will attempt to keep trade as steady as possible following the crushing defeat of the Brexit deal in the British parliament, says Trade Minister Simon Birmingham.
"These are quite extraordinary and uncertain times," Senator Birmingham told ABC Radio National following the crushing defeat of the Brexit deal in the British parliament.
"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."
Despite the uncertainty the government would continue to pursue trade agreements with the UK (Australia’s seventh largest trading partner) and the European Union, he said.
The government had a "belt and braces" approach to Brexit, with negotiations ongoing with the EU and a working group established to forge a free trade agreement with the UK when it leaves the EU on March 29.
British MPs voted 432-202 against Prime Minister Theresa May's deal for the UK to leave the EU, plunging the Brexit process into chaos and leading to a no-confidence vote in her government.
Focus on trade opportunities
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 and get the advantages we can for our businesses," Mr Shorten told the Nine Network.
The Brexit vote follows more than two years of political upheaval – and was the biggest defeat for a government in the House of Commons in more than a century.
The vote leaves the UK with no Brexit policy and no viable alternative.
It is not clear if it will push the government toward an abrupt “no-deal” break with the EU, or lead it toward a softer departure.
It could also trigger a new election or pave the way for a second referendum that could reverse Britain’s decision to leave.
‘Most significant vote in our political careers’
Ms May, who leads a fragile Conservative minority government, has made delivering Brexit her main task since taking office in 2016 after the country’s decision to leave the EU.
“This is the most significant vote that any of us will ever be part of in our political careers,” she told lawmakers as debate ended.
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said parliamentarians “hold the future of the British automotive industry – and the hundreds and thousands of jobs it supports – in their hands”.
“Brexit is already causing us damage in output, costs and jobs, but this does not compare with the catastrophic consequences of being cut adrift from our biggest trading partner overnight,” he said.