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House of Commons Hansard
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05 September 2019
Volume 664
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2. What recent assessment the Government have made of the effect on the transportation of goods of the UK leaving the EU without a deal. [912275]

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The Government have prioritised flow of goods at the border and put in place a range of easements to support that fluidity.

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I do not get any sense from the Secretary of State that he intends to implement the decisions of this House in ruling out no deal. What would his response be to Rod McKenzie of the Road Haulage Association, who only this week said this of his experience of Ministers in relation to what he describes as the “clear and present” threat of no deal:

“What we need is action, and we need action now. And there’s this gap between what they say they’re going to do, and what they have so far failed to deliver”?

When will we see delivery from this Government? When will the Government even meet unions representing drivers to discuss their real fears about the impact of a no-deal Brexit on drivers’ hours and safety?

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Again, the hon. Gentleman is ignoring the evidence. The Government are acting. He should look at, for example, the auto-enrolment of EORI—economic operator registration and identification—numbers. Some 87,955 VAT-registered businesses that trade only with the EU have, as part of auto-enrolment, had those numbers sent out. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was in Calais meeting his counterpart and discussing these very issues. There are material issues to address, but it does not progress debate in this House if people ignore the reality of the work that the Government are doing.

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My right hon. Friend said last week that the

“car industry’s ‘just in time’ supply chains rely on fluid cross-Channel trade routes”,

and that we

“need to start talks now on how we make sure this flow continues if we leave without a deal.”

Some of us have been making this point for some time. Can my right hon. Friend say: who are these proposed talks with, have they started, when does he expect them to finish and will he publish an update on how far they have got?

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This is the first opportunity I have had since my right hon. Friend left the Government to pay tribute to the work that he did as a senior Minister, in particular, if I may say so, in relation to the British steel industry. I know he was an assiduous champion of its interests at the Cabinet table.

What I was highlighting in that thread was the talks the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was having that Friday in Calais. The fact is that issues about the documentation required and the flow are of mutual interest. It was pertaining to the issues touched on in the communiqué issued by the Commission yesterday. It is in the interests of both sides, including those of leaders in northern France, that we get the flow of these goods right.

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About 3 million wooden pallets are used every month to transport goods, including food, between the UK and the EU. After a no-deal Brexit, those wooden pallets will no longer be able to be used unless they have been heat treated or fumigated. Can the Secretary of State give the House an assurance, because this is absolutely about the supply of food, that there are sufficient pallets available to the companies that keep our food supplies moving?

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We have a ministerial meeting, chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, which is tasked each day with looking at specific issues. My focus—as Chair of the Exiting the European Union Committee, the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of this—is on the negotiations, as opposed to every item such as pallets, so I will pick that up with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. However, considerable work has gone on. As I say, this issue applies to the EU—to its exports and the flow of goods through Calais—and it is these very issues that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was discussing with his counterparts in Calais last Friday.

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The Secretary of State quite rightly referred to the EORI numbers, but as I understand it, businesses will also have to get a similar number from the country in the EU27 with which they trade once we are outside the EU. Are businesses aware of that, or are they just aware of getting the UK one?

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My hon. Friend is right that there are a number of things businesses need to do. That is exactly the purpose behind the public information campaign that we have launched to improve readiness. Contrary to the perception often implied in this House, a huge amount of work has been done in Government over the last three years and a large amount of work has also been done in large companies, including large pharmaceutical companies. The area of more concern has been within the SME community to which he refers, and that is what the public information campaign is targeting.

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Would not the best way of measuring the effect of transportation of goods on the UK leaving the EU without a deal be to publish the Operation Yellowhammer documents, rather than sanitising or shredding them, and allowing Members of Parliament to interview the civil servants responsible for writing them?

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A huge amount of information has already been published, not least in the form of the technical notices that the Government have issued. However, I fear—this may be a rare area of agreement between the right hon. Gentleman and me—that there is no level of documentation we could publish that would fully satisfy him.