The UK Government and European Commission have agreed in principle that the two sides should negotiate a comprehensive air transport agreement, and the Department is working closely with the aviation sector to ensure its requirements are factored into the negotiations.
The draft withdrawal agreement will have done little to alleviate the uncertainty of the aviation industry, and with the post-Brexit relationship yet to be negotiated and the risk of no deal increasing, can the Minister confirm whether the aviation agreement talks, which the Secretary of State earlier this month said were ready to start, have now begun? When does the Minister expect them to be concluded?
The hon. Gentleman is a keen student of Adam Smith and he will therefore know that free trade is constantly something that both sides will benefit from and will seek to derive gain. The conversations that he mentions continue and both sides have a strong interest in reaching a deal. That should be no cause for surprise, because the President of the European Council said on 7 March:
“I am determined to avoid that particularly absurd consequence of Brexit that is the disruption of flights between the UK and the EU”,
and he was right.
Less than a month ago, the Secretary of State told the aviation conference that it was theoretically possible that the European Aviation Safety Agency could refuse or delay the certification of UK-certified planes. Now we have even less time before we leave the EU, so can the Minister offer any more certainty to the aviation sector?
I can do no better than to remind the hon. Gentleman of the notice that was published on 13 November which said specifically that there would be reciprocity in operations between the UK and the EU in the air transport sector, that aviation safety certificates would remain valid for a period of time, and that passengers and cabin luggage from the UK would not need to be rescreened. This all points to the likelihood of a perfectly good, sensible and comprehensive agreement.
Will the Minister tell us whether Airbus, which is critical for Bristol jobs, and the other manufacturing industries in its supply chain will be able to maintain planes and move parts between the UK and the EU exactly as before if there is no deal?