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Welsh Economy

Volume 615: debated on Thursday 20 October 2016

The Government continue to undertake a wide range of analysis covering all parts of the UK to inform the UK’s position for the upcoming negotiation with the European partners. A key part of that understanding is the differences across the UK. The Welsh economy has particular strengths in aerospace, automotive, higher education, electronics, steel and agriculture, for example. It is important that we understand the impacts and the opportunities for all parts of the Welsh economy.

I visited Cardiff on Tuesday this week, when I met the First Minister and the Finance Minister, and I am grateful to them for giving me time on their Budget day. I also met university vice-chancellors in a separate meeting. Wales has a particular reliance on a range of EU funding—more so than much of the rest of the UK—on which the Chancellor has already offered a number of guarantees.

As the Secretary of State will be aware, the Welsh economy produces a substantial trade surplus of more than £5 billion per annum as a result of our membership of the single market, the customs union and the associated 53 international global trade deals. The UK as a whole, on the other hand, has a massive deficit of nearly £120 billion. Does the Secretary of State acknowledge, therefore, that the Government’s favoured policy of leaving the single market, the customs union and the associated 53 international global trade deals—a hard Brexit—will have a significant effect on Wales?

No, because the Government’s aim is to maintain the freest and most barrier-free access to the single market that we can obtain. That is the aim, and parts of the kingdom such as Wales are very much at the forefront of our thoughts in that strategy.

Many businesses in Wales are wondering how EU directives that have been signed but not yet enacted—some may not be enacted until 2017 or 2018—will impact on them. At what stage will the Government say that directives are no longer applicable in the UK?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, which goes to the heart of the previous question about maintaining stability and confidence. We have said in terms that the great repeal Act will put into domestic law all the acquis as it exists at the point at which we depart. Everything that is in European law at that point goes into British law.

In Blaenau Gwent, the successful dips company Zorba Foods faces a bigger bill for bringing its ingredients into the country. With petrol prices going up, the falling pound is making every step of the journey to the dinner plate much more expensive. What are the Government doing to help businesses that are faced with a steep increase in costs and families who are faced with higher food bills?

It is not the place of the Government to judge what is the right and wrong exchange rate. The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that the exchange rate has gone down quite notably, but that gives both advantages and disadvantages. It has already changed, for example, the success of various industries in exports and some other domestic industries. We hope—more than that, we intend—that the balance will work out to everybody’s advantage in the long run.

Yesterday, I was delighted to hear the Under-Secretary of State for Wales confirm that the Treasury will underwrite the approximately £110 million that is due to come from the EU regional development fund for the electrification of the valleys lines in Wales if that money has not come through before we exit the European Union. In his discussions with the First Minister, was the Secretary of State able to give him greater clarity about all the funds that come into Wales from the EU? Businesses require that stable background against which to operate.

My right hon. Friend picks up on a very important point. Wales is more dependent on European funding at the moment than many other parts of the country. One of the set of things the Government have done to protect people from any instability is to underwrite very quickly—the Treasury undertook to do this in August—the existing structural funds. The Welsh Government were cognisant of that and welcomed it, particularly as they—as I said, I visited them on budget day—were able to make their budgets balance. From that point of view, the Government will continue to look at any areas where financial risk is induced as a result of our departure and the possible severance of EU funds as we leave.