European Affairs: 14th March 2018

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Will the Minister give way?

Greg Hands
I am going to make a bit of progress.

We are not working purely on non-EU trade. A common misconception is that the DIT is a purely Brexit Department. Our ongoing work of encouraging investment and exports is equally important, and that applies just as much to trade with Europe as it does to trade outside it. DIT has over 300 staff across continental Europe. I myself have made 16 European visits to 10 countries while in this position, as have all our ministerial team, including the Secretary of State. We have brilliant teams in commercial centres right the way across Europe.

Anna Soubry
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend for giving way. It is very good, kind and generous of him. May we just return to the comments made by Sir Martin Donnelly, because I do not think the record will be accurate? We have heard mention of a bag of crisps. What he said was that, based on his experience of 15 years and beyond in the specific area of trade, our country was in effect embarking on a course that was the equivalent of swapping a three-course meal for a bag of crisps. Has my right hon. Friend seen the Government’s own analysis of the various options available to us that show that, even if we get a trade deal with every single country with which we do not have one by virtue of our membership of the European Union, which is about 50, we will still not be as prosperous as we are now by virtue of our membership of the European Union?

Greg Hands
I thank my right hon. Friend for her lengthy intervention. What I would say is that there is no such analysis of the kind she describes. What I am clear on is that it is our objective to maintain frictionless trade with the European Union as we go forward. It is our objective to conduct an independent trade policy and to seek, when the time is right, trade agreements with those partners. It is also our objective to seek the continuity in existing EU trade agreements for the UK, which I note the Labour party voted against on Second Reading of the Trade Bill. Labour is actually opposed to us seeking the continuity of existing trade agreements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna Soubry
My right hon. Friend is being very kind and generous in giving way, especially as I am really not helping him. With the greatest respect, he knows, as everyone else does, that we will and can achieve all these deals with countries such as China as a member of the EU. By way of example, I have met the Australian ambassador, and while he would of course want to do a trade deal with our great country, Australia will look first to do a trade deal with the EU, with its 500 million customers. Is it not important that we make all these things very clear to the British people? We do trade deals at the moment by virtue of our membership of the EU, and the only reason why we are leaving the customs union is to chase unicorn deals, but we can get deals with the EU.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing)
Order. It was quite in order for the Minister to give way to the right hon. Lady, but she knows that her intervention was too long, because she said so the last time—I heard her.

Greg Hands
It was a long intervention, Madam Deputy Speaker.

With all due respect to my right hon. Friend—she and I served alongside each other in government—the British people have made the decision to leave the European Union. That was the crucial decision made in June 2016. The Government’s purpose is now to ensure that we have the best possible frictionless trade deal with the European Union, while still being able to take ​advantage of trade opportunities beyond the EU. As I have stated repeatedly during this debate, that is the Government’s objective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anna Soubry
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with me, and I am going to be honest about all this: that there is some division on these Benches, but, equally, there is division still on the hon. Gentleman’s Benches? While the move to a customs union has been welcomed, does he anticipate that we might see more movement to the customs union and of course to accepting that the single market would also be a good way to settle it?

Matthew Pennycook
I thank the right hon. Lady for her intervention. We do need to be honest about this. An issue of this magnitude and importance is bound to create different views in all parties, but I would argue that the divisions on the Labour Benches are nothing like the fundamental divisions in the Cabinet and on the Government Benches. Certainly, the divisions on our side are not preventing legislation from being brought forward for us to vote on.