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Leaving the EU: Businesses in Scotland

Volume 670: debated on Tuesday 21 January 2020

The Scottish Government received almost £100 million to help to prepare for Brexit in the run-up to 31 October last year. I am delighted that we now have a good deal with the European Union, so we will be leaving the EU at the end of January, but the implementation period will mean that nothing changes for businesses until the end of 2020. We are working hard on our future trading relationship with our EU friends and neighbours.

With the final destination of Brexit still vague, it is a disgrace that the UK Government are still failing to give businesses the information they need to navigate Brexit, with firms needing more than the Chancellor telling them simply to “adjust”. Will the Secretary of State finally accept the policy of the Scottish National party and the Institute of Directors of providing a £750 million one-stop shop for UK firms?

I am not surprised to hear that the hon. Gentleman is still determined to resist Brexit, but he will appreciate that this Government are getting on with it and ensuring that there is a great deal for businesses. On his point about Scottish businesses’ preparedness, my Department’s business readiness fund enabled various trade bodies, including the Scottish Chamber of Commerce and the Scottish fishing trade bodies, to receive hundreds of thousands in taxpayers’ money precisely to enable businesses to be Brexit-ready.

The Chancellor has been clear that some companies will benefit from Brexit and some will not, but the Fraser of Allander Institute has been clear that it estimates that as many as 100,000 jobs in Scotland will be lost as a result of Brexit. Can the Minister explain why she thinks it fair that Scotland will be hit so hard by a Brexit for which it did not vote?

I am sure that the hon. Lady will be delighted to see today’s employment numbers—yet again, the highest numbers on record—and she will no doubt also be delighted to know that there has been a 12.7% increase in employment in North Ayrshire and Arran since 2010. Jobs are being created, supported by a UK Government who are determined to give people right across the United Kingdom the chance of future growth and prosperity in their area.

Will the Secretary of State talk about the support that her Department is giving to quantum computing in the UK? This technology is growing at an exponential speed and opening up new opportunities in new sectors for the United Kingdom.

Just to help the new Member, his question should really be associated with the current question, so I presume that he is talking about Scotland as well.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his question. He may be aware that the Government are investing about £1 billion in a new quantum technologies fund, which will be of benefit right across the United Kingdom as we take advantage of these extraordinary opportunities, so many of which are coming out of the United Kingdom.

I would like to offer the shadow Secretary of State’s apologies, because she cannot be with us today. But it is the Secretary of State who has been AWOL from business—missing in action during the general election and now again, as we prepare for Brexit, shelving the weekly meetings with business leaders. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister promised the workers of Nissan that he would

“make sure we have complete equivalence when it comes to our standards, our industrial requirements and the rest of it”,

but the Chancellor rules out continuing alignment with the European Union. Will the Secretary of State ensure that the necessary alignment for frictionless trade with the European Union continues after Brexit?

I welcome the hon. Lady, who is standing in for the shadow Secretary of State. It is very unfortunate that she decided to play the man and not the ball, because she is absolutely incorrect to suggest that it is my policy to reduce meetings with businesses. In fact, my Department’s priority is to make the UK the best place to work and to grow a business, and I will be increasing the level of engagement and the range of engagement right across the business sector as we leave the European Union and get the best possible deal for businesses and for people.

The Secretary of State did not even say the words “frictionless trade”, and her reassurances will not give businesses very much hope, but given that we know the Prime Minister’s views on business—I think it would be disorderly to quote them in detail—we cannot expect meaningful reassurances. However, Nissan was given private reassurances back in July 2017. We were told at the time that they were too commercially sensitive to publish, but now we have only 10 days to go and Ministers are answering questions on them, so will she publish the reassurances given to Nissan, and if not, why not?

Businesses right across the United Kingdom will benefit from the new potential free trading deals around the world that we will be negotiating as we leave the European Union, but at the same time this Government are committed to getting the best possible free trading arrangements with our EU friends and neighbours for all companies—for Nissan and for all companies that currently trade with the EU.

The 10 days till Brexit will be followed by 10 years of trade chaos, negative growth, lower employment and investment paralysis. Given that the EU has already stated that the trumped-up Tory timetable will not allow for a comprehensive trade deal, will the Secretary of State finally establish a small and medium-sized enterprise support service to allow Scottish firms to navigate this mess?

It is a bit like a stuck record, if I can use 1970s terminology. SNP Members said that we would not get any kind of a deal. They said that the Prime Minister would not be able to reopen the withdrawal agreement. They said that we would never get out of the EU. The fact is that this Prime Minister has been able to negotiate a good deal with the European Union that works for businesses and people right across the UK, and we are opening up new opportunities. Just for once, be a little optimistic!

It is clear from that answer that our Government have no plans to save Scottish firms from the sinking ship that is Brexit Britain, but we do have the lifeboat of independence. On Scotland’s right to choose, does the Secretary of State still believe that it is wrong to utterly rule it out and disrespectful to do so and is it still “never say never”, or are those laudable democratic principles to be sunk with the Brexit ship?

I would just draw the attention of the hon. Gentleman and those on his Benches to the very recent Deloitte CFO confidence survey, which demonstrates the biggest ever jump in business confidence, as a result of the certainty that we now have about the way ahead. Business certainty is absolutely key, and if he wants to do something for businesses, he should stop trying to hammer their confidence and start looking to work with the Government on the opportunities that lie ahead.