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Access to EU Markets

Volume 645: debated on Thursday 19 July 2018

1. What steps he is taking during negotiations to ensure that UK manufacturing and services can continue to have access to EU markets after the UK leaves the EU. (906535)

The UK proposes a UK-EU free trade area underpinned by a common rulebook, including on agri-food, but only for those rules necessary to provide frictionless trade at the border. On services, we seek to minimise new barriers to trade, enable UK firms to establish in the EU and continue mutual recognition of professional qualifications.

While welcoming the Secretary of State to his new post, may I ask if he shares my view that all Members of this House have a sacred duty to look at the long-term future of the people that we represent? Will he join me in looking at the front page of the Financial Times, and did he listen to the radio this morning? He knows that many of our constituents working in manufacturing and in services are deeply distressed and worried about their future.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We need to look to the long term, and we need to try to bridge some of the divisions in this country. I believe that the White Paper that the UK Government have published is a principled, pragmatic but ambitious approach that delivers the best deal for the UK but also makes sure that we continue our firm, strong ties with our European friends.

May I wish my right hon. Friend well, particularly at the start of his negotiations this afternoon? Amid all this talk of no deal, can he reassure me and the House that it is still the British Government’s intention and expectation that they will be able to reach a good deal in these negotiations?

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. He will have seen from the White Paper that we have set out the approach that we are taking—the strategy that we have. I will be out in Brussels today because we do need to step up the pace, the intensity and the heat of the negotiations. But, at the same time, the only responsible thing for the Government to do is to prepare for all eventualities out of these negotiations.

The Secretary of State will be only too well aware that, without an agreement on a backstop for the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, there will be no withdrawal agreement. The technical note on customs arrangements that the Government published last month was only half a backstop because, as the paper itself acknowledged, it would need to have added to it something on regulation. Now that the Government have committed to a common rulebook in the White Paper, can the Secretary of State today confirm that that will now be added to the proposal for a backstop so that he can make progress on it?

The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to talk about the progress that we have undoubtedly made with our European friends on the withdrawal agreement, but to say that issues such as Northern Ireland remain to be resolved properly. He is also right to say that the White Paper and the proposals have a principled but flexible approach that will allow us to make sure that we not just continue the frictionless trade but avoid any issues at the border. We will obviously take forward those negotiations today, and I look forward to discussing this with Michel Barnier later.

I call Rachael Maskell. [Interruption.] I mean Rachel Maclean—I do beg the hon. Lady’s pardon and the other hon. Lady’s pardon. They are both very distinctive, and it is my fuzzy memory, not their lack of distinctiveness. I do apologise to both of them.

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker—[Laughter.] Oh, I am sorry, Mr Speaker. It is obviously flattering to be confused with the hon. Member for York Central (Rachael Maskell).

My constituents voted to leave the EU because they did not want our laws to be made by bureaucrats in Brussels—they wanted our laws to be made by our own country. Can the Secretary of State, who I know shares this ambition, reassure my constituents that the Chequers proposal will allow our laws to be made in our country after we leave the EU?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have made a narrow exception where there will be a common rulebook for agricultural goods and manufactured goods at the border, but only to the extent that that is necessary to ensure frictionless trade—and even there, elected Members in this House will have the last word. Of course, the UK Supreme Court will finally do what it says on the tin, which is to have the last word on the application of the laws of the land.

Fears that the schism at the heart of the Tory party is driving the country towards a no deal Brexit are once again on the rise, and it is clear that the new Secretary of State is stepping up preparations for such a scenario. Will he therefore tell the House what specific advice his Department is giving to the financial services sector on how to prepare for an EU departure without a deal?

I thank the hon. Gentleman. Of course, many of the banks and people in the City are already preparing and are very confident that they can withstand any of the uncertainty in relation to Brexit negotiations. We have been preparing for some time now. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) for all the preparatory work that he has done. We will be starting to step up some of those preparations. Some of that will become more publicly facing in the weeks and months ahead. That is necessary, and any responsible Government would have to do it. We will obviously set out the details of that shortly.

I understand my hon. Friend’s concern, but the common rulebook relates only to those particular rules that relate to the border, to enable frictionless trade. We will ensure, through technical-level consultations, that we have a voice in the formation of those rules. Ultimately, it will be for this House to say yes or no to whether those rules become the law of the land.