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Leaving the EU: Bilateral Relations

Volume 617: debated on Tuesday 22 November 2016

4. What assessment his Department has made of the effect of the UK’s decision to leave the EU on its bilateral relations with (a) EU and (b) non-EU countries. (907405)

We are committed to strengthening the UK’s bilateral relationships not just with the EU but across the world. We will deepen bilateral relationships with our natural partners, build new ones and work together to make the most of the opportunities ahead.

At the weekend, the Prime Minister stated that she intended to update Chancellor Merkel on our Brexit preparations, and we know that the Business Secretary has already revealed the Government’s plans to Nissan and that the Foreign Secretary himself was kind enough to brief the Czech press that we were leaving the customs unions. Why does everybody know more about the Government’s plans than the elected representatives in this House, people across the United Kingdom and businesses in our constituencies that need and want to plan for the future?

The best advice I can give to the hon. Lady is that she study more closely the speeches of the Prime Minister, who has set out very clearly the fact that the UK will not be governed by EU law and that we will get the best possible deal, in trade in goods and services, for the benefit not just of this country but of the rest of the EU. Conservative Members are united behind the Prime Minister in achieving that aim.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, for many countries in the eastern part of the EU, the largest issue at the moment is not Brexit but the potential threat from a resurgent Putin-led Russia? They are extremely grateful that the UK is right at the forefront of delivering troops to support the Baltic states and Poland.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for allowing me, once again, to draw attention to global Britain’s role in delivering an enhanced forward presence in the Baltic states, as my right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has said. That presence is of massive importance to those countries—[Interruption.] Opposition Members are interjecting from a sedentary position. This is one of the central points that we will be making to the incoming American Administration, and I am sure it is one that they already readily accept.

I studied closely what the Prime Minister said yesterday at the CBI conference. She said:

“people don’t want a cliff edge”.

It is encouraging that the Government are now acknowledging that in March 2019 we risk falling back on World Trade Organisation rules and tariffs. Following the Prime Minister’s comments yesterday, will the Foreign Secretary confirm that the Government are looking at a transitional deal that will give us time to negotiate a trade deal with the rest of the EU and to arrange other matters, such as security?

I do not want to accuse the hon. Lady of unnecessary pessimism, but I have no doubt whatever that this country can achieve exactly what the Prime Minister has set out, which is the best possible deal in trade in goods and services; and it will be win-win for both the UK and the EU.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that bilateral relations with non-EU countries such as America, Australia and Canada are extremely good and that those within the EU are extremely good as well, and now we have the opportunity to do a number of trade deals with all these countries? I understand that Tony Blair would like to help. Do you believe that he could have a role by banging the drum for Brand Britain around the world and accepting the fact that we are going to leave the European Union?

My hon. Friend raises the issue of the support of the former Prime Minister. I am tempted to say “Nec tali auxilio, nec defensoribus istis” when it comes to our campaign. My hon. Friend is completely right: there is a huge opportunity not only for a deep and comprehensive deal with our friends and partners in the EU, but to seek new free trade deals around the world, and for this country to become once again the global champion and agitator for free trade.

In between insulting the Italian Foreign Minister last week, showing that he has no understanding of the treaty of Rome, saying that he would not pressure Turkey over the death penalty and having a major bust-up with the head of the European People’s party, the Foreign Secretary managed to make one serious announcement. He told the Czech media that Britain would retain free trade with Europe, while leaving the customs union. Is that now the Government’s proposed plan and how does the Foreign Secretary intend to achieve it?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question, but I must direct him to the answer that I have already given, which is that the Prime Minister has set out very clearly in her speeches and remarks what we hope to achieve, and I think it eminently achievable. Contrary to the impression that the hon. Gentleman sought to give, more and more of our friends and partners around the EU are seeing the merits of what is being proposed, and more and more are excited. The hon. Gentleman asked about relations, so let me tell him that relations are excellent and getting warmer—not just in the EU, but around the world.