Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill: 8th January 2018

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
My hon. Friend is making a good speech in which he is, of course, advocating free trade, in which we all believe—or at least Conservative Members do. Does he, like me, see the profound irony in our discussing how we are going to have to have new technologies, put in new systems and do all these other hugely complicated, very expensive things, in order to cope with leaving the customs union, even though we believe in and want free trade? Does he not think it would be much more simple and sensible just to stay in the customs union?

Damian Collins
My right hon. Friend makes a compelling point, but we have to accept that other political issues are being considered alongside the management of trade: our general future relationship with the European Union as a partner European continental country, but not as a member of the EU itself; whether we should have arrangements whereby the level of regulatory alignment is such that we effectively become a satellite state—a client state—of the European Union and not an independent one; and the extent to which we have to fully comply with and implement rules that we have no further part in designing in future. That is what creates difficulties around membership of the customs union and the single market. As she knows as well, the issue of membership of the single market also comes alongside considerations around the issue of free movement of persons as it is defined now.​

If there is a way, through negotiation, to resolve those difficulties and to keep a system of trade that we have got used to and that works so well for our economy, without any deviation from the current system at all, and to deliver the other political objectives that people voted for in the referendum, I will welcome that. However, what we are talking about here is making sure that we prepare, both through the laws and the physical infrastructure, for a different scenario whereby, if we are not able through negotiation to replicate what we have now, we have a system in place that can deliver something that is just as good.

There are many unanswered questions because that process is still being negotiated, but, as I said at the start of my remarks, it is far better that we have the debate about what we want the system to look like now, at the same time as giving the Government the legal power to negotiate and implement what they want in future. Now is the right time to be having that debate. I am sure that there will be plenty of other opportunities for the House to debate the specifics of the deal as we progress through the negotiations this year. But now is the right time to be having this debate.

As I have said, maintaining a system of free trade is clearly what we all want and what we want to see delivered. We need to ensure that we have the legal infrastructure in place and invest in the physical infrastructure, so that we can implement the deal that we have, and in particular keep frictionless trade on the island of Ireland and at our key points of trade in Kent —at the channel tunnel and at the port of Dover—with continental Europe.