Skip to main content

Supply Chains

Volume 652: debated on Tuesday 8 January 2019

Supply chains between the UK and the EU are vital—they support at least 200,000 UK traders and around 55,000 manufacturing jobs in Scotland alone. The deal the Government have negotiated with the EU, by avoiding customs checks, will protect supply chains and jobs right across the UK.

I ask this question against the background of yesterday’s unthinkable dry run for a no-deal Brexit— 80 lorries is hardly the same as 6,000. I represent the furthest-away part of the UK mainland. I have mentioned before in the Chamber Mr William Calder, who runs a fish food company in Scrabster. Half a day’s extra delay in getting his fish products to the European market will ruin the gentleman. Does the Minister see just how dangerous the future could be for my constituents?

I agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is why there has been consistent support, especially in Scotland, from organisations such as the National Farmers Union of Scotland and the Scotch Whisky Association. Those who depend on the export trade, including the logistics he describes, have urged the House to back the deal, and I hope he joins us in doing that.

The importance of Dover-Calais is unquestionable. What estimates has the Department made of the implications for the supply network of any reduction in capacity between Dover and Calais?

My right hon. Friend knows that much of the just-in-time production goes through the strait of Dover, and estimates suggest an impact of a reduction of about 80% of capacity between the narrow strait. In my view, it is essential that we avoid that disruption, which would have implications right across the United Kingdom, including in Derbyshire and indeed Scotland, as we have heard.

This week, I received correspondence from a small business owner and constituent of mine who shared his fears about the issues Brexit could cause his chemicals business. The EU is where the majority of his sales are made and where he sources his raw materials. Can the Secretary of State tell us why his Government will not rule out a no-deal Brexit now, which is putting so many businesses in my area and across the country at risk?

The hon. Lady is right that the chemicals industry is a good example of a very integrated industry across Europe. I met the leaders of the chemicals industry in the week before Christmas, and they were very clear that what has been negotiated in the withdrawal agreement and political agreement achieves what they need, which is, first, to avoid no deal and, secondly, to be able to continue what has been a very successful industry, including in the area she represents.

With the worrying news that German output has fallen by 4.7%, what can Britain do, post Brexit, to help the German economy with a thriving British economy?

It has always been my view, and I know it is my hon. Friend’s view, that the more we can trade on what has been a very successful model the better. He represents a west midlands constituency and knows how important it is in the west midlands that we have flourishing trade, to the benefit of our economy and those of our neighbours and friends on the continent.

From Airbus in Bristol to Nissan in Sunderland, millions of British jobs depend upon supply chains that crisscross the channel. Ministers fantasise about replacing them with American or Australian ones, and then, as they did yesterday, hire 80 trucks to drive around Kent in a ghost of Brexit future pantomime of the chaos to come. The Minister for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has acted honourably in saying he will not be part of a Government who allow a no-deal Brexit, so will the Secretary of State reassure Aston Martin, Brompton the bicycle manufacturer, and the other businesses stockpiling parts—spending money that could be spent creating jobs—by saying he understands the requirements of business and geography and rule out a no deal now?

I completely understand the requirements of business, including the manufacturers the hon. Lady mentions. It is essential that we be able to continue to trade, which is why I have always been clear—representing very strongly the views of small business and large business—that no deal should not be contemplated, but the way to avoid no deal is to do what the motor manufacturers, the Institute of Directors, the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce and all the business organisations say we should do, which is vote for the agreement that will come before the House next week.

Lang may yer lum reek, Mr Speaker.

One way the Government are looking to maintain cross-border supply chains is by Government tender to shipping companies, but is the Secretary of State happy about the precedent set for UK businesses? His colleague the Secretary of State for Transport has awarded a £14 million contract to a company with negative assets of nearly £400,000, no ships and terms and conditions copied from a takeaway, while the contract itself seems to have been awarded on questionable legal grounds. Is this the standard he expects for all UK businesses tendering for UK Government contracts?

It is evident that avoiding no deal is an essential task for all of us in the House, and I hope that in the days ahead the hon. Gentleman and other hon. Members will take the opportunity to obviate the need for those contingencies. The Secretary of State for Transport has an opportunity to come to the House later today, but it seems to me prudent and responsible for every Department to prepare, on a contingency basis, for no deal, while also being firmly resolved to avoid it.

The Secretary of State has not answered the question. Will all UK businesses see such largesse from the Government in respect of procurement contracts? One of Seaborne’s directors ran a business that went into liquidation owing HMRC nearly £600,000, using employee benefit trust tax avoidance schemes. According to the director, the Government did not even consider the money owed to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to be relevant. Is that a sign of a Government who are out of control over Brexit?

I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree that, as I have said, every Department should make preparations against the avoidable contingency of no deal. The Secretary of State will describe the procurement processes for which the Department for Transport opted, but it is fair to observe that not a penny of Government money has been paid to the company, and I understand that it will be paid only on receipt of services provided.

Given that nearly all the roll-on/roll-off lorry traffic between the Irish Republic and the EU travels across the UK motorway network to Dover, what co-operation has been offered by the Republic to mitigate a no-deal Brexit?

My hon. Friend is right to point out that the impact of the Dover strait extends to our trade across the Irish sea. He knows that the negotiation has been with the European Commission and the European Council rather than through bilateral negotiations with individual member states, but I agree with him that the disruption that would occur would affect our trade across the Irish sea as well.