Customs and Borders: 26th April 2018

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
Would it not also be the case that, as a country that champions free trade, we have seen the reduction of barriers with those other non-EU members, which may explain the growth? Does the right hon. Lady agree that it seems rather perverse that, at a time when we want to increase free trade, we are going to put up a whole load of barriers to stop access, in the best existing free trade area in the world?

Yvette Cooper
The right hon. Lady is exactly right. Where we currently have good free trading arrangements we should cherish them, because the truth is that it is getting harder to negotiate new trade deals. The politics of trade deals has become more complex, as communities across different countries become more worried about the losers and winners of big changes to trade arrangements. At a time when it could take very many years to negotiate new trade arrangements, if we pursue the idea of ripping up our existing ones before the conclusion of such negotiations it will be deeply damaging to many of our jobs and communities.

Anna Soubry
Will my right hon. and learned Friend give way?

Mr Clarke
With great respect to my close ally and friend, I must make a little progress and finish making this point. I might already have had my 10 minutes.​

Anna Soubry
Will the hon. Lady give way?

Kate Hoey

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
I join all those who have spoken today, other than the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey), and endorse and embrace pretty much everything that has been so ably said. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan) said, this is not just a simple case of our having a debate, which of course we should have had some time ago in order to assist the Government in this extremely difficult process, but of having the debate that we should have had in the run-up to the EU referendum.

I do not know whether the good people of Vauxhall actually did sit and discuss the intricacies of the customs union and the single market. Perhaps they did. That might explain why, of course, they voted to remain in the European Union. What we are seeing—I am sorry that I am repeating myself here—is the dawning of a Brexit reality. In that reality, businesses the length and breadth of our country are worried. They are extremely worried, especially those in the manufacturing sector.

On Tuesday, a real-life business in my constituency, which employs 750 people, came to see me. Such is the atmosphere in this country that it has not allowed me to tell Members its name, because it is frightened of the sort of abuse that many Members on these Benches have received and to which we have become accustomed. We will not give up, and we will speak out, because it is not about us, but about the generations to come and indeed the people in our constituencies who now, in the real world, face the real possibility of losing their jobs.

What did this company tell me? It makes a world-leading medicine. I am enormously proud to have it in the borough of Broxtowe. The reality is that, as it uses specialised medicinal ingredients, it imports them into our country. In Broxtowe and Nottingham, it puts them altogether and makes a world-leading medicine. Some 60% of its exports go directly to the European Union. Tariffs do not concern it so much. They concern the car industry where margins are so tight that any imposition of a tariff simply will see those great car manufacturers, which employ 425,000 people—people, whom I am afraid, the hon. Member for Vauxhall, casts to one side—move their production and new lines to their existing facilities in countries such as France, Germany and other places.

Returning to the pharmaceutical company that came to see me, any delay at all of those basic ingredients will have a considerable effect on its ability to produce, and time costs money. Any delay also means that it has to look for warehouse spaces—and it is doing this now—so that it can stockpile. I am talking about the sort of expanse that we can barely begin to imagine. It is looking for warehouses so that it can store and stockpile both the ingredients and the finished products. It fears that any delay will affect its business of exporting into the European Union.

Albert Owen
As a member of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, I met some pharmaceutical companies. One thing they told us, which was quite stark, was that research and development ​is done in this country, and manufacturing in the Republic of Ireland, and the product is then transferred back to the UK to go to mainland Europe. They will be paying tariffs perhaps half a dozen times, adding costs to our NHS.

Anna Soubry
The hon. Gentleman speaks with authority because he knows the reality. He will also know that pharmaceutical batches must be checked to ensure that the quality and ingredients are right. That work has to be done in a European Union country in order for those products to be sold within the European Union, so this pharmaceutical company it is going to replicate exactly the same brilliant labs that it has in Broxtowe and in Nottingham over in Amsterdam. This is the stuff of madness. The company is looking at flying qualified, high-skilled technicians out to Amsterdam on a weekly, if not daily basis, to do the work there. Replication adds to costs, and I have no doubt that it will not be long before the senior managers simply say, “Why on earth are we doing it in the UK, facing the end of the customs union and the single markets, when we could simply go into another country in the European Union and replicate our manufacturing process there?”

Kevin Hollinrake
Is my right hon. Friend therefore proposing that we stay members not just of the customs union, but also of the single market?

Anna Soubry
I absolutely am. I made it very clear to my constituents when I stood for re-election in Broxtowe last June that I would continue to make the case for the single market and the customs union—oh, and by the way, for the positive benefits of immigration—and they were good enough to give me and our party their vote. As my right hon. Friend the Member for Loughborough said, each and every one of us must look deep into our hearts when deciding the future relationship that we will have with the European Union. It is imperative that we put our country and the best interests of our constituents first and foremost—and, in particular, over and above any ideological drive that too many people have—in this most critical of debates.

The final thing I want to say is this: I get rather agitated at the notion that we are about to be global Britain. Why? Because we are already global Britain. I had the great pleasure of going to the far east with David Cameron, and I went to China with George Osborne. Why did we go to these countries? To do trade. In fact, to do more trade; we already trade all around the world. That ability to trade should not be diminished in any way, and it will not be by our membership of the customs union. We have struck up well over 40 deals, and at the heart of those deals we made the case for free trade in a way in which no other European Union member state has done. We are recognised for our strong belief in free trade and we have achieved that by virtue of our membership of the customs union.

I am old enough to remember when we were described as the sick man of Europe, and we were. The reasons that we became such a hugely successful economy was because of our membership of the single market and the customs union. Other Members—especially my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke), who was undoubtedly around at the time— ​have referred to Margaret Thatcher’s great speech, when she not only described the single market, but was the finest exponent of it. She believed in the single market. As many of us now know, she promised the Prime Minister of Japan that our country would never leave the single market, and that is why the Japanese invested in our country on the scale that they did.

I hope that the House does not have to divide tonight; nobody wants that. But we all want the best deal for our country, and that is in the customs union—and, by the way, the single market.

Anna Soubry

Matt Warman
I give way to my right hon. Friend, who—

Mr Speaker
Order. Before the right hon. Lady intervenes, can I make this point? People are perfectly entitled to intervene, but if they keep doing so, particularly those who have already spoken, they do so knowing that they are stopping other colleagues from speaking. Let us be clear about that. Does the right hon. Lady still wish to intervene?

Anna Soubry

Anna Soubry
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that so many Members do not even know what the customs union is? For example, while we have heard today that there are no other customs unions in the world, there are 12. As for state aid rules, we now know that the Government said on Monday that they would adopt all the state aid rules that we currently have as a member of the European Union.

Antoinette Sandbach
I am grateful for my right hon. Friend’s intervention.

Let me explain why the customs union is so important. There is evidence that the crankshaft of a Mini crosses the English Channel three times on a 2,000-mile journey before the car is even finished. It is first cast in France, before being sent to Warwickshire to be milled into shape. Once it is complete, it is sent to Munich to be added to the engine. Finally, it is sent back to Oxford, where the engine is installed in the car.​