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Leaving the EU: Haulage Sector

Volume 654: debated on Thursday 14 February 2019

10. What recent assessment he has made of the potential effect on the haulage sector of the UK leaving the EU. (909224)

The Government continue to work towards a deal and we are confident of securing a relationship with the EU that maintains the current liberalised access we enjoy. Of all goods moved by UK-registered heavy goods vehicles in 2017, 1% were moved internationally. We do not expect that there will be significant impacts on international trade movements, or on the haulage sector overall. If we leave without a deal, there might be some short-term disruption, and we have undertaken extensive contingency plans to mitigate this.

Short-term disruption—that’s a good one.

Haulage companies such as Scott Bros. and Devereux in my Stockton North constituency are extremely anxious about their future when we leave the EU. They are not helped much by the road haulage permits legislation, which in effect highlights the potential damage that Brexit will do to the industry, and certainly does not show a Government standing up for the industry. What is the Secretary of State going to do about it?

The hon. Gentleman and, indeed, his constituents will welcome the fact that the European Union has been clear that the current arrangements will continue after April and is moving forward with plans to do that. In addition, we have bilateral agreements with other countries that will ensure that international trade continues to flow, and we are of course also continuing members of the common transit convention.

Seafood processing businesses in Banff and Buchan have expressed concerns to me about the possible requirement for European Conference of Ministers of Transport permits in the event that we leave the EU without a deal. Will my right hon. Friend meet me and representatives of the sector to discuss their concerns?

I am always happy to meet my hon. Friend, and I meet people from the sector quite regularly. His constituents will be assured—indeed, we have written to all applicants for the permits to indicate this to them—that the European Union’s position is that it intends to continue with the current arrangements. We put through measures to make sure that we had a contingency plan, which was supported across the House, but I do not expect it to be needed because, according to the EU itself, we will carry on with the current arrangements.

We know that the contract with Seaborne was, in the words of the Secretary of State’s own permanent secretary, a “novel and exceptional” proposition, but she revealed yesterday to the Public Accounts Committee that the only confirmation that the Department had about the arrangements with Arklow were from Seaborne itself. There was no paper document and no contract was signed. The Secretary of State talks about due diligence, but we know it failed on due diligence, and we now know that there was no comfort document for the Department about the contract with Arklow, so will he tell us what due diligence he thinks did take place, because what we have seen shows that it did not?

At Christmastime, Arklow confirmed in writing, and we have copies of that—[Hon. Members: “In January.”] At Christmastime, Arklow confirmed in writing that it was backing the proposition. [Interruption.] At Christmastime, Mr Speaker. I hear the sedentary comments but I am absolutely clear: at Christmastime.

The hon. Lady does not look satisfied, but I hope that she is nevertheless enjoying her birthday, upon which I congratulate her.

Despite Labour’s warnings throughout the passage of the Haulage Permits and Trailer Registration Bill, just 984 licences have been made available following 11,392 applications. Despite the short-term agreement with the EU, if companies cannot move their goods, they will have no choice but to move their businesses, so why is the Secretary of State running down British jobs and British business?

What a load of absolute hokum! We are working very carefully, on a bilateral basis, to make sure that there are contingency plans in place, but the European Union—we have to bear in mind that 80% of the trucks that come through our ports delivering goods to the United Kingdom are run by continental hauliers—is being very clear that it wants that to continue, and it will.

It gets worse: crashing out of the EU in just 43 days’ time will mean that we are a third country, like the Ukraine or China—as indeed, would Irish companies who use the UK as a bridge to the continent. Haulage firms would have to fill out a 38-point document for every single consignment—that is not for each lorry, but for each consignment on each lorry—just hours before each transit, causing catastrophic delays. So who now is the enemy of business? It is this Government, who are running down the clock to create real chaos at our borders. It is surely not this Opposition, who are insistent on a permanent customs union.

Of course, what the hon. Lady does not understand is that she talks about a permanent customs union, but a permanent customs union requires border checks. The Labour party simply does not understand the arguments that it is making. It is trying to disrupt Brexit. It is trying to put forward policy ideas that do not work. We are working to secure a deal that will work, and we will carry on doing it.