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Leaving the EU

Volume 645: debated on Wednesday 18 July 2018

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on the Welsh economy of the UK leaving the EU. (906435)

Wales approaches Brexit from a position of strength with a growing economy and falling unemployment, and our plan for Brexit will allow us to shape our own ambitious trade and investment opportunities, putting Wales and the wider UK at the forefront of global trade.

The Welsh Affairs Committee has now joined in the calls for the retention of membership of the single market and customs union to protect the agricultural sector, in which 80% of Welsh exports go to the EU. Will the Secretary of State confirm what representations he made to the Prime Minister ahead of the Chequers agreement for continued membership for the agricultural sector?

As the House would expect, I looked closely at that report, but of course the outcome that the hon. Gentleman suggests would mean that we could not honour the expectations of the British people following the referendum decision to leave the European Union; it would mean retaining free movement of people. The Chequers agreement protects the agricultural sector so that it has the opportunity to trade frictionlessly with the European Union.

By 2020, the Welsh economy will have been supported by almost £150 billion of investment through EU structural funds. The Government committed to replacing that funding, along with support for farming and the English NHS, with money from the mythical Brexit dividend. Now that it is clear that the UK will not receive a single penny back from Brexit, will the Secretary of State confirm that there will still be money for Wales?

The Government have committed to consult later this year on the UK shared prosperity fund, which will be a Brexit dividend. We are already seeing a Brexit dividend with the £20 billion increase in health spending, which will have considerable consequences for Scotland and, rightly, for Wales. As their budgets are protected, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland will benefit significantly from that.

The Secretary of State’s answer directly contradicts the UK Government’s own analysis, which shows that Wales and every other part of the United Kingdom will be badly hit by their plans for Brexit. If the Government do have a plan for Brexit, we would love to hear it—and is there any economic analysis for it?

The hon. Gentleman ignores the hard data, which shows record numbers of people in employment and sharp falls in unemployment. I have met a whole host of international investors from the US, Qatar, Japan and elsewhere, and we are seeing significant foreign direct investment projects coming to the UK. That shows the great opportunities there are as we leave the European Union.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Does the Secretary of State agree that the most important market to the Welsh economy is the internal market of the United Kingdom? That is also true for Scotland, which is why it makes no sense that the Scottish National party wants to peel Scotland away from the United Kingdom and the success of this nation.

The hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. He is right to say that the UK market is more important to the Welsh and Scottish economies than any international market is. It has already been demonstrated that Scotland sells four times more to the rest of the UK than to any international market. That dependence on the UK economy is greater for the Welsh economy.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the economic benefit of the city deals that have been agreed in Wales and Scotland is evidence of what is possible when the UK Government and the devolved Administrations pull together in the same direction?

May I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, who has worked so hard on the Stirling city growth deal? That exciting prospect, will offer real opportunities for long-term economic regeneration. I take the opportunity to highlight the fact that Wales will be the only part of the UK that is entirely covered by city deals and growth deals. That meets the UK Government’s ambitions to close the wealth gap between the most prosperous and most deprived areas of the UK by raising the economic prospects of some of the poorest parts of the UK.

Given the impact of Brexit uncertainty on the Welsh rural economy, the Minister will surely agree that technology and science opportunities must be seized. What is he doing to ensure that Snowdonia Aerospace at Llanbedr becomes the UK’s first horizontal-launch spaceport?

The hon. Lady is absolutely right. Llanbedr offers great opportunities. The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and I have spoken on a number of occasions about this, and I hope that the hon. Lady will welcome the statement that was made last week and the additional money that is being made available to exploit the opportunities in Llanbedr. I am excited by this prospect, and we will put the hon. Lady’s constituency at the forefront of space technology.

I will say more about the situation of the rural economy, given that the former Wales Office Minister, the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), stood down this week to oppose the Brexiteers’ wrecking amendments. At next week’s Royal Welsh show, will the Secretary of State announce his resignation in protest at the Government’s policy of wrecking Welsh livestock farming?

First, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for his excellent work at the Ministry of Defence in supporting the defence services across the whole UK, as well as his role in looking after agriculture as a Wales Office Minister. The hon. Lady will be well aware that the Chequers agreement provides a frictionless trading opportunity for Welsh farmers that will allow them to continue to sell Welsh beef and lamb, and other Welsh produce, to the European Union as they do at the moment.

In calling the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane), I congratulate him on what I understand is, unbelievably, his 60th birthday.

It’s a hard life!

The shadow Wales team recently met Farmers Union of Wales representatives, who are desperately worried about the future funding of Welsh agriculture post Brexit. If future farm funding is allocated using the Barnett formula, Welsh farmers will lose £133 million a year, taking £1 billion out of the Welsh economy. That would decimate rural communities and thousands of family-run farms. What steps is the Minister taking to guarantee Welsh agriculture the same level of funding post Brexit?

I, too, congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his significant birthday. The Under-Secretary of State for Wales, my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Stuart Andrew), and I meet Welsh farming unions regularly, and we also meet them jointly with the Welsh Government’s Agriculture Minister. That demonstrates the collaborative approach that we are taking. If I have said once, I have said 100 times that we will not be using the Barnett formula to distribute agricultural spend. Clearly, the current level of spend is the starting point, and we will be consulting in due course. The financial protection that the UK Government have given to Wales, whereby Wales now receives £120 for every £100 spent in England, demonstrates the priority that we put on protecting Wales’s interests.