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EU Referendum

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 12 April 2016

4. What assessment he has made of the effect of the EU referendum on UK trade with countries with which the EU has a free trade agreement. (904404)

The Government believe that the UK will be stronger, safer and better off by remaining in a reformed European Union. Were we to leave, we should expect to lose our preferential access to not only the European single market, but the 53 markets outside the EU with which the EU has free trade agreements.

The EU has preferential trade agreements with 53 countries, including high-growth Asian nations such as Vietnam and Korea, where I believe the benefits have boosted British trade by some £2 billion a year, and talks with Indonesia and the Philippines start soon. Will my right hon. Friend explain whether we would easily be able to replicate those 53 agreements in the case of Brexit and how long that would take?

May I congratulate my hon. Friend on the work he does as the Prime Minister’s trade envoy to the ASEAN—Association of Southeast Asian Nations—region? I agree with him that the record shows that alternative trade agreements would take years to negotiate and there would be no guarantee whatsoever that we could obtain terms that were anything like as good as those that we enjoy through the European Union today.

Conservative Members do not like to hear this, but will the Minister confirm that he listened to the wise words of David Miliband on Radio 4’s “Today” programme this morning? Is what he said not absolutely true: our international trading partners are already postponing decisions on investment in this country and ceasing to hire in this country?

I missed that interview this morning, but I do agree with what Mr Miliband says. What I hear direct from businesses in this country is that they are concerned about the uncertainty, that some have indeed postponed decisions and that many more would consider reducing the levels of employment or of investment in this country if there were a decision to quit the European Union.

I would point my hon. Friend to the fact that the Government’s case—that we are better off remaining in the EU—is supported by the overwhelming majority of business leaders and of trade union leaders in this country. I just wish he and others who advocate leaving the EU would, for once, come up with a coherent and consistent description of the alternative.

As we know, the Government are in favour of the European partnership, trade and the benefits of remaining in the EU. The EU referendum provides the opportunity to display exactly that, so when will the Minister be inviting and, we hope, welcoming President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel to the UK, with the strong campaign message, “Shoulder to shoulder. It is better for the UK to remain in the EU”? Will he welcome and invite them?

Both Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande have made it clear that they believe the United Kingdom contributes a huge amount to the political and economic weight of the EU in the world, and they want to see us vote to stay within the EU. They are also clear that this is a decision for the British electorate to take, and they respect that fact.

In answer to the Minister’s question, our vision of the UK outside the EU is very simply that we would be like most other free trading nations around the world: trading as we see fit. I suggest the Government are playing with fire, because the more they wade in in favour of remaining during this referendum debate, the more the referendum will be seen as being unfair, and that could create further uncertainty, particularly if the vote is narrowly for staying.

The Government are not going to be silent or neutral on an issue that we believe is central to the future prosperity and security of the United Kingdom. I am glad that my hon. Friend seems to believe, on leaving, we should continue to be part of the European single market, but he is yet to say how that would involve not having to accept freedom of movement, agreement to all European rules although we would have no say or vote on them, and contributing to the EU budget. That is the situation Norway and Switzerland are in today.

Given the claims some have made about possible free trade deals outside the EU, is the Minister for Europe aware of any major trading partner that wishes the UK to leave the EU?

The key point here is of course that we have a free trade agreement with the European Union, as we have with other nation states. There is a question that has to be answered: why are so many of the states that have said we should stay in the EU the ones that the other side seem to think we can have some sort of agreement with?

The consistent message that we hear from friends, allies and partners, not just in Europe, but in the Commonwealth and around the world, is that they want to see us stay in the EU. I am still waiting for the advocates of quitting to come up with an example of a friendly international leader who supports their case.

There are more cars manufactured in one city in the north of England in one month than that great car-producing country Italy makes in a year, and the vast majority of those cars are exported to Europe—and that is just one city in one region. We see that being replicated right across the country. Early assessment suggests that any post-Brexit deal would place a tariff of up to 10% on every single car manufactured in the UK and sent to Europe, and that, over time, that would damage both manufacturing and jobs in the UK. Will the Minister confirm the possibility of a tariff of at least 10% being placed on every car manufactured in the UK?

That is indeed the case. If we were outside the single market, and World Trade Organisation rules applied, we could expect that 10% tariff on every car exported to the rest of Europe from the United Kingdom, which is why exit would be such a bad deal.

Order. I made an appeal for a speed-up a few moments ago, but unfortunately, to put it bluntly, the Member concerned made a mess of it and did not speed up. We must now speed up.