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Trade White Paper

Volume 629: debated on Thursday 12 October 2017

Since he is a conscientious and committed Member of the House of Commons, the hon. Gentleman will know that the Government published a trade White Paper on Monday 9 October 2017. The trade White Paper establishes the principles that will guide future UK trade policy and sets out the preparatory steps that we are taking. The paper can be found in the Libraries of both Houses and on the website.

What transitional plans does the Secretary of State have for the transitional period if he cannot necessarily do the trade deals that he wants to do?

If the hon. Gentleman is referring to the transitional adoption of existing EU agreements, I can tell him that we have had a very positive response from other Governments, who, like us, want to ensure that there is no disruption of trade at the point of departure from the European Union. We will want to get as many of those in place as we can. That depends partly on the willingness of partners to get that ready on time; there are obviously contingency measures available to us under the World Trade Organisation to ensure continued market access in any case.

This Government constantly declares for free trade. In fact, as we leave the European Union and take up our independent seat on the World Trade Organisation, this country intends to champion the cause of global free trade, especially at a time when the growth in trade has been slowing down in recent years.

Does the International Trade Secretary recognise that people fear that in the event of, for example, a very right-wing, ideological Government, we could see the erosion of social standards through our trade agreements or even the erosion of our ability to protect our national health service with the wrong type of trade treaty? Will he guarantee parliamentary scrutiny of every trade deal done?

I would like the Government to be judged by their actions. Therefore, as I indicated to the hon. Member for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), as we want to transition the already agreed EU free trade agreements into UK law—which will include, for example, workers’ rights and environmental standards—I hope that we will get the full support of the Opposition in doing that and in getting the legislation available to give us the powers to do so.

The White Paper sets out a strong case for free trade: it is good for growth, and it is good for jobs—but occasionally other countries will act in unfair ways, such as through the dumping of goods. Will the Secretary of State therefore confirm that it will always be the Government’s approach to respond to that in a proportionate, carefully targeted and time-limited fashion?

The Government will bring forward legislation that sets out our plans for a trade remedies authority to ensure that the protections that UK business currently has—and that the UK workforce currently enjoy—are continued when we leave the European Union.

White Papers are all good and well, but yesterday the Scottish Government published a report showing what is at stake for business as the UK edges closer to the Brexit cliff edge. We know that the Secretary of State has consulted the business community to find out how it will be affected, but will he commit today to publishing the findings, as called for by a range of MPs across the House, even if they show that business wants to stay in the single market and customs union? At what point will this Government stop governing in secret and publish the reality of the impact of Brexit?

The Government are of course extremely concerned about any perceptions of instability. We will consult widely, particularly when it comes to new free trade agreements, but of course the greatest threat to stability, particularly in Scotland, is the insistence of the Scottish Government on threatening a second referendum on independence.