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Leaving the EU: Business Links

Volume 620: debated on Wednesday 25 January 2017

2. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of Wales’s international business links since the UK’s decision to leave the EU. (908304)

5. What assessment he has made of the adequacy of Wales’s international business links since the UK's decision to leave the EU. (908307)

The UK, including Wales, remains the same outward-looking, globally minded country that we have always been. To support Wales’s international business links further, I am jointly hosting a Wales business export summit in Cardiff in early March to ensure that businesses in Wales have full access to UK Government support.

The Republic of Ireland is one of Wales’s most important trading partners, with around 360,000 trucks passing through Welsh ports to Ireland every year. May I encourage my right hon. Friend to get really involved in the discussions about future UK-Irish border and customs controls to ensure that future arrangements not only uphold the peace process with the north, but protect Welsh interests by minimising checks and delays on trucks that use Welsh ports?

My right hon. Friend is a true champion of the port in Milford Haven and the links and benefits that it brings to the Welsh and UK economies, and he has played a significant part in developing it. As we negotiate our exit from the European Union, and the special situation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the Welsh situation is not being ignored. At every Joint Ministerial Committee it has been recognised not only by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, but at the Joint Ministerial Committee involving the Prime Minister.

Given the first-class universities in Wales, including my alma mater Coleg Prifysgol Dewi Sant, will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will highlight their expertise as part of his assessment of international business links?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. I have mentioned that the Joint Ministerial Committee involving the devolved Administrations plays an important part, but that does not mean that universities will not have a part to play in influencing the negotiations on exiting the European Union. I spoke to the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University last week. I am happy to maintain a close relationship with my hon. Friend’s former university and to ensure that all universities across the United Kingdom have their say as we negotiate our exit from the European Union.

The Secretary of State’s response to the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) was not good enough, to be frank. We have had the same response to that question for some time now. We are going to have a common travel area, and it is going to impact heavily on Welsh ports. Will the Secretary of State put the case for Welsh ports and meet Welsh Members of Parliament to ensure that that important trade has a Welsh dimension?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the issues relating to Holyhead, which are being taken into consideration in our discussions. I will happily meet him and any colleagues he wishes to bring along. The situation in Holyhead and Milford Haven is, absolutely, important to the Welsh and the UK economy, and it has issues in common with Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. We want to ensure that we get a deal that works for all situations.

I am very pleased that the Secretary of State mentioned universities in his response about international business links. Is he aware of the profound concern that is shared by most vice-chancellors, including Professor Hinfelaar at Wrexham Glyndŵr University, about the impact that changes to migration rules will have on students from within the EU and outside it? Will the Secretary of State discuss the matter in detail with those vice-chancellors?

As well as the universities that I have highlighted, I am in close engagement with Universities Wales, which represents all universities, but I am happy to meet any of the vice-chancellors about the situation. Many assumptions have been made about migration controls. Clearly, it is in our interests to ensure that universities can succeed and prosper, and migration and international students are an important part of their model. Controlling immigration does not mean stopping immigration.

I am glad of my right hon. Friend’s concentration on universities in his answers. He will be aware that just before Christmas, Cardiff University school of chemistry was formally presented with a royal warrant, officially awarding the department a regius professorship of chemistry in recognition of the exceptionally high standard of research at Cardiff University. What are my right hon. Friend and the Wales Office doing to make sure that our institutions and professors get such accolades and that we can stand on the international stage?

My hon. Friend makes an important point about the success and the role of universities. The UK Government have a part to play in recognising, championing and promoting that, as well as using Innovate UK money. He is right to highlight the new regius professorship that was awarded to Cardiff University. That underlines its expertise and success in the field of chemistry, and we are determined to ensure that that plays a significant part on the global stage.

As the Secretary of State considers Wales’s business links post-Brexit, will he give the highest priority to the Welsh steel industry, and will he not rule out a trade defence mechanism for steel if that is what is required to save Welsh steelworkers’ jobs?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising the steel industry. It is an extremely important industry for communities in Wales, but it is also of strategic importance for the whole of the United Kingdom. Last week, I met all the unions relating to steel, and we discussed the challenges that exist, as well as how the company, the pension trustees, the pensioners and the employees of the steelworks need to work their way through this. The Government stand ready to support the industry—we are determined to find a long-term, sustainable future for the steel industry—and I recognise its importance for Wales and for the UK.