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Leaving the EU: Defence Exports

Volume 666: debated on Monday 21 October 2019

14. What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on potential defence exports after the UK leaves the EU. (900014)

Defence exports will continue to be supported, not just by the Ministry of Defence but by other Government Departments including the Department for International Trade, after the UK leaves the EU. Work is ongoing to explore how to strengthen the competitiveness of UK industry and to support exports, both to the EU and globally. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has regular conversations with the Secretary of State for International Trade, including through the defence security and exports working group.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on her appointment. I know that she is a fervent champion of the tremendous exporters that we have in the defence sector. She will know that they often face non-tariff barriers when they export to the United States. Can she reassure me that she will be championing their cause and ensuring that those non-tariff barriers are broken down when we have a new trade deal?

I thank my hon. Friend for her kind words. I reassure her that, through our long-standing bilateral relationship with the US, we work closely across the full spectrum of defence, including on issues of shared economic interests such as reducing barriers. Free trade agreements are not used as a means of increasing defence exports. For non-sensitive and non-warlike defence goods and services, the UK may pursue greater access to US public procurement opportunities through the free trade agreement.

The 13 old nuclear submarines tied up alongside Devonport provide a really important case not only for generating jobs in Devonport but for exporting skills and technology around the world. Will the Minister put forward a strategy for how we are going to recycle those old nuclear submarines within the next year?

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his optimism that anything so big as that project could be done in a year, but I will certainly take up the challenge. I have been described by some in the Department as a poacher turned gamekeeper on this particular subject, especially as I have made it a priority to move this forward. I saw the work being done on the Resolution project up in Rosyth a couple of weeks ago, and I have been encouraged by the progress being made there. We are starting to see a structured framework that will enable us to move this project forward and move our way right through our elderly submarines that are now in need of retirement.