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Single Market

Volume 615: debated on Thursday 20 October 2016

8. If he will take steps during negotiations on the UK leaving the EU to ensure continued access to the EU single market for goods, people and services. (906695)

The Prime Minister is clear that we want the most open and free access possible. All countries have access to the single market; the question is on what terms and to what extent. We are seeking a bespoke outcome on terms of trading with and operating within the European market. As one of the world’s largest economies, we are confident that we will negotiate the right deal for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We are acutely aware of the significant trading links between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and we are determined to ensure a smooth transition. Disruption is in no one’s interest.

The Secretary of State’s answer suggests that nothing has yet been set in stone. With that in mind and given the importance of membership of the single market to the all-Ireland economy, will the Secretary of State commit to exploring ways in which Northern Ireland can remain in the single market, because of its importance to our business, in the eventuality that Britain leaves?

What I will commit myself to—I have already committed to this—is extensive work to ensure that we keep an open border between the north and the south, maintain the common travel area, and maintain the most effective open market that we can achieve. Within that, I do not intend to specify any particular outcome at this point.

The remain campaign was perfectly clear that we have to leave the single market. [Hon. Members: “Do you mean the leave campaign?”] No, I mean the remain campaign. Are not the really important questions whether the French wish to sell us wine without tariffs, whether the Germans wish to sell us cars without tariffs, and whether the whole of Europe wishes to continue its current level of access to the City?

My hon. Friend makes a very important point. When the Prime Minister is at the European Council tonight and tomorrow, she will reiterate what we have said many times already: we want an outcome that is successful for both the United Kingdom and the European Union. As my hon. Friend suggests, if the UK and the EU do not achieve an open, free and barrier-free trading relationship, it will be harmful to many European countries and harmful to European financial stability, and no one wants that.

Were we to leave the customs union, the businesses exporting 44% of our exports to the EU would face extra costs for compliance with the rules of origin, which the OECD estimates at 25%. Does the Secretary of State not agree that membership of the customs union is even more important than membership of the single market?

As I said earlier, these matters are assessed very carefully, but perhaps the hon. Lady should look at various other countries around the European Union, although they are all smaller than us, so they are not really good models. There is Turkey, which is inside the customs union and outside the single market; there is Norway, which is inside the single market and outside the customs union—actually it manages to trade with Sweden very easily—and there is Switzerland, which is outside both the customs union and the single market. What we are looking for is the best balance to achieve the best outcome.

Obviously the Minister cannot speculate on how the negotiations will go, but the one thing we do know is that we have already had a Brexit dividend. With the pound falling by 15.2% against the euro, our exports are so much cheaper and our imports are so much more expensive that more jobs will come into this country and more goods will be produced here, which is a very good thing.

It is not for this Minister, at any rate, to comment on what is the appropriate or right level of the pound. However, as my hon. Friend says, this has its disadvantages in terms of the effect on inflation, but some serious advantages in terms of our trading capability, and those are much bigger even than the tariffs that people talk about.

Order. I would call the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West (Margaret Ferrier) if she were standing, but she is not, so I will not.

16. Thank you, Mr Speaker. Leaving the single market in a hard Brexit will be catastrophic, and the Treasury estimates that the cost to the UK economy could be £66 billion, that 80,000 jobs in Scotland could be lost, and that wages could be hit by up to £2,000 a year. The Tory manifesto clearly stated:“We say: yes to the Single Market”.Will the Secretary of State cast doubt aside, and undertake to make good on that commitment? (906704)

What I can undertake to do is to ensure that we secure the freest and most open possible trading arrangement with Europe. That is what matters, not titles such as “single market”, “hard Brexit” or “soft Brexit”—all those amazing terms that people come up with. We want the maximum possible access, which will encourage job growth, wealth growth and revenue growth in this country.

Membership of the single market means accepting EU laws, having to accept rulings from the European Court of Justice, probably still making contributions to the EU budget, and accepting free movement of people, all of which flies in the face of what the British people voted for in the referendum. Is not the only question of principle that is at stake the question of whether the EU wants to continue its tariff-free trade with the UK or if it wants to commit economic suicide?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. Let me reiterate what I said earlier. Our aim is to come up with an outcome that is good for the United Kingdom and good for the European Union, and that is a free trade area with us.