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Manufacturing: Leaving the EU

Volume 616: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2016

The UK is the ninth largest manufacturing nation in the world. My colleagues and I will continue to engage with UK manufacturing and other sectors to understand their priorities in shaping a successful Brexit and an industrial strategy that is effective in supporting competitiveness.

Nissan’s special deal is, of course, good news for workers there and for that sector, but does the Minister agree that my constituents in the manufacturing sector deserve a similar deal? Will he therefore provide this House with a full list of assurances given to the company and all the details provided to those investigating the potential state aid implications of that deal, so that we can assess the implications of that work for our overall manufacturing sector?

We ran through this last week in the statements that the Secretary of State made. The senior Nissan Europe executive Colin Lawther was very clear that the company had received no special deal, and the Secretary of State spelled out clearly the basis of the assurances given—three were about the automotive sector and one was about Brexit and our determination to make sure that in those negotiations we do not undermine the competitiveness of key industries.

Does the Minister agree that since the referendum, manufacturing has already had a Brexit dividend as a result of the fall in the value of the pound, which makes our exports much cheaper and imports more expensive, so people who produce stuff in this country have a price advantage already?

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. The CBI surveys and others are encouraging, but we are determined not to be complacent. Clearly, Brexit raises a number of questions and there are a number of concerns out there in sectors across the economy. It is the responsibility of this Department to engage fully with the sectors to understand their priorities for the negotiations.

Ministers should come to the beating heart of manufacturing in this country in Huddersfield. Throughout the country manufacturers are in turmoil post-Brexit. There is no Government policy and no preparation. We are going to lose markets all over Europe and replace them with nothing.

That is a very defeatist statement from someone whom I associate with sunny optimism. It is a priority for the Secretary of State that Ministers get out there and engage with areas and with LEPs to understand their priorities fully. The hon. Gentleman is too defeatist about the competitiveness of British manufacturing.

As Britain leaves the European Union, the high-value manufacturing catapult centres will play a key role in protecting innovation in the manufacturing sector. Will the Minister continue to support these centres, so that we protect our competitiveness in the future?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the catapult centres. We are extremely proud of them and we gave a manifesto commitment to continue to support them. They play a fundamental role in our vision of an innovation-led economy.

UK goods and foods can compete on quality and cost with any in the world, but freight charging can remove the cost-quality advantage. Will Ministers carry out an assessment of freight charging in other countries for the export of manufactured goods and what advantage that would give to Northern Ireland and other regions?

The Department is and will continue to be rigorous in engaging with sectors across the economy to understand the issues of competitiveness and to understand where playing fields can be levelled, so that that can inform the negotiating strategy and the industrial strategy.

An end to uncertainty for Nissan workers is deeply welcome, but there are millions of workers who want to know if they, too, have a future, and there are thousands of employers who are holding back from investment decisions, as the Engineering Employers Federation’s survey has demonstrated, until they, too, know the future. Will the Government act to end uncertainty, spelling out precisely how they will defend British manufacturing interests, otherwise it will be workers and their companies who will pay the price in Brexit Britain?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for that question. Of course, as a west midlands MP, he sits at the heart of a region that is being very dynamic and organised in expressing its determination to compete aggressively. Let me reassure him. I recognise the uncertainty—Brexit does create tremendous uncertainty and we need to recognise that—but it is the responsibility of the Government, and my Department in particular, to liaise closely with sectors across the economy and the regions to understand their priorities and inform the negotiating strategy.