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EU Bilateral Relationships

Volume 634: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2018

As we create our new partnership with the EU, we must also build even stronger bilateral relationships with the 27 member states, and at the same time maintain strong and positive relations with the EU institutions. Considerable effort has been made to ensure that the Foreign Office, and the country, is well placed to do just that.

Last month the Foreign Secretary warned that the UK would become “a vassal state” if we could not diverge from EU tariffs and standards, but he also accepted that divergence would have “trading consequences” for the UK. Could he spell out what those consequences would be?

As we move on to phase 2 of the discussions and negotiations, all these matters will be in the frame. I am sure that we will be able to negotiate an agreement that is in the long-term interests of the UK.

The Minister has done enormous amounts in reasserting bilateralism across Europe this past year. Can he assure us that the resources that he requires to make sure that we are ready for post-EU membership will not denude the rest of the world, so that we do not rob Peter to pay Paul or build bilaterals at a cost to global Britain?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. We have created 50 new diplomatic positions in our embassies, but it is not a question of simply reducing the number of staff outside Europe by the same number. The money to fund these changes will come from changing the way we work and adjusting some our processes, and from some frontline staff savings in Asia, the Americas and Africa. We are also bidding for some extra money from the Treasury to help create over 100 additional new roles to support the process of leaving the EU.

My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (Faisal Rashid) asked a clear question but did not get a clear answer, so let me try again. The Secretary of State said that there will be “trading consequences” for the UK if we diverge from the EU tariffs and rules—what are they?

It is perhaps slightly beyond my pay grade to say that I refer the hon. Gentleman to the answer I gave some moments ago, but indeed I do. These are matters for the Department for Exiting the European Union and for the negotiations. They will be discussed in phase 2 of those negotiations, which is now beginning.

Perhaps the most important bilateral relationship the United Kingdom has with an EU member state is in the location of British immigration controls in France. Will the Minister ensure that post Brexit, we do all we can to maintain this very important relationship?

My hon. Friend has put his finger on a very important issue. Indeed, that is an essential part of our relations with France that needs to continue smoothly. I have little doubt that it will be discussed to some extent at the UK-France summit that will take place later this month.

May I take the opportunity to congratulate the Foreign Secretary on surviving yesterday’s Downing Street dither? It would appear that Toby Young is the only person to have lost his job.

The Foreign Affairs Committee was told that there were to be cuts to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s work in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as the Minister mentioned earlier. What impact does he believe that will have on his Department’s ambition for a global Britain?

I am confident that, with all the combined efforts across Whitehall—in many Departments, including the Department for International Trade—that will not dent our efforts to be champions of global Britain. Indeed, all Ministers in all Departments are making sure that global Britain is a reality.

I thank the Minister for his response. It is good to hear that he does not believe the cuts elsewhere in the world will have an impact. However, with an increasing number of people thinking that the Government are handling their negotiations with the EU badly, and given that such a view is shared in many capitals around the world, does he agree that the appointment of a no-deal Minister is the latest sign of a state hurtling towards retreat and isolation?

No, I do not. I have spent much of the past 18 months championing this country across Europe and elsewhere, throughout the 77 countries I represent, and I am proud to say that the British flag flies high and with great respect in all those countries.