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EU Trade Agreements: Roll-over

Volume 666: debated on Thursday 17 October 2019

In preparation for our exit from the European Union, the Government have, to date, secured 16 continuity trade agreements with 46 countries. Trade with those countries represents 72% of the UK’s total trade. I am pleased to inform the House that only last week my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State signed another agreement with the Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique to roll over the existing EU trade agreements that we have with them.[Official Report, 31 October 2019, Vol. 667, c. 4MC.]

The Minister says there are 16 agreements, but given the Government’s clear broken promise to roll over at least 40 trade deals by one minute after midnight on 31 March, two Brexit extensions ago, have they carried out any assessment of the economic loss that will result if—I will say if, not when—we are unable to secure a trade deal with all the countries that the EU already has an existing arrangement with?

I am sorry that the hon. Lady has not welcomed the efforts that the Government and officials have made to make this incredibly successful transition. These deals account for over £100 billion-worth of our current trade, and they are warmly welcomed by the businesses that trade beyond the borders of the European Union. I will tell her what assessment we have made on the European Union: we have made an assessment that it would be deeply damaging for our democracy if we do not honour the referendum of 2016.

Will the Minister explain to the House how, when we leave the EU, his Department will continue to protect UK businesses from unfair trading practices?

We remain absolutely committed to ensuring a level playing field. The United Kingdom has been one of the leading international advocates of a rules-based order. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, we are committed to playing our full part in the WTO, and we are absolutely committed to having a trade resolution body up and running and formally underpinned by statute. This is the boring bit—the continuity bit. The exciting bit comes when we leave the European Union and we can strike out with new, comprehensive free trade agreements around the world.

Despite the existing architecture, despite not needing to reinvent the wheel, despite not starting from zero—we could just follow the work the European Union has done—and despite the promise to do this by one minute after midnight, the slow progress in these trade agreements surely does not bode well for any of the future trade agreements that the Government talk about ad nauseam. Meanwhile, the UK Government are endangering the trading potential of companies in the UK. When will the other 24 be done?

We are working aggressively to continue the roll-overs, and many are very close to being completed. Despite the hon. Gentleman’s distinguished position as Chair of the International Trade Committee, if optimism were a disease, he would be immune.

The Trade Bill was supposed to govern the roll-over of EU trade deals, but the Government abandoned it in the last Session because they knew that they would lose votes on important amendments, including on scrutiny and parliamentary approval. Can the Minister confirm that the Government will carry over those vital provisions into the new trade Bill, so that elected Members of this Parliament can properly scrutinise all trade agreements, to prevent our NHS, food standards and environmental protections from being traded away to President Trump?

As a distinguished parliamentarian, the hon. Lady knows how this House works. She will have ample opportunity to scrutinise the trade Bill during its passage through Parliament and, if she wishes, to make amendments to the Bill, which can then be considered by the House. I wish that the Opposition would stop peddling this lie, which is worrying people, about the NHS and the United States. The Prime Minister has made it repeatedly clear that the NHS is not on the table in any trade agreement. She should stop scaremongering.