With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on our preparations for the end of the transition period.
Before I do, may I place on record my thanks—and, I am sure, those of the whole House—for the 20 years of service that Dave Prentis, the general secretary of Unison, has given? Mr Prentis announced today that he will be standing down at the end of this year. He has been an exemplary trade union leader. We have all been reminded during the covid pandemic of how much we depend on the public sector workers he speaks up for. I would like to extend my best wishes to him on his retirement.
On 31 January this year, the United Kingdom left the European Union, and last month we confirmed to our European Union partners that there would be no extension of the transition period beyond 31 December. My counterpart as co-chair of the Joint Committee confirmed that this marked “a definite conclusion” to the matter, and the deadline for extension has now passed. As a consequence, from 1 January 2021 we will embark on the next chapter in our history as a fully independent United Kingdom. With control of our economy, we can continue to put in place the right measures for covid recovery. With control over the money that we send to Brussels, we can spend it on our priorities—investing in the NHS, spreading opportunity more equally across the UK, and strengthening our Union. We are also able to build a trading relationship with our neighbours in Europe that serves all our interests, while also developing new economic partnerships across the world, including opportunities for new and better trade deals with the US, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and many other nations.
The deal the Prime Minister struck last year, which the country backed in the general election, means that we can look forward with confidence to the end of the transition period on 31 December, but of course there is still work to do to prepare. Regardless of the outcome of negotiations with the EU over our future relationship, whether or not we have a Canada-style deal or an Australian model, we will be leaving the single market and the customs union. This will herald changes, and significant opportunities, for which we all need to prepare—Government, business and individual citizens.
So I am announcing today two significant new initiatives that will bring financial support, further clarity, and reassurance for business and citizens. We are launching a major new public information campaign to make sure that everyone has the facts they need about the actions that we all need to take in order to be ready. We are also releasing for the first time an operating model for the border that will benefit importers and exporters, and provide information to hauliers, shippers, freight companies and our customs intermediaries. This comprehensive guidance covers every processing system used across all Government Departments and has been developed after extensive consultation with industry partners, operators and, of course, the devolved Administrations. Together with the additional £705 million package of funding for border infrastructure, extra jobs and better technology, this will help to ensure that our new borders will be ready when the UK takes back control on January. It will assist the smooth movement of goods, and it will also help us to lay the foundations for the world’s most effective border by 2025, making our country more secure and our citizens safer.
Turning to the detail of these initiatives, the public information campaign—“The UK’s new start: let’s get going”—will run in the four home nations and internationally, encouraging us all to play our part in preparing for change. The campaign will be supplemented by the deployment of experts in the field, giving one-to-one support to businesses and their supply chains to ensure that they have made arrangements that will help to keep their operations running efficiently.
From January 2021, in order to fulfil the import process, traders will need to have a GB economic operators registration and identification, or EORI, number before moving their goods. They will need to have the commodity codes of their goods, which will be needed to make a customs declaration and, of course, to calculate duties on an import. They will need to know the customs values of their goods, the rules of which are based on the World Trade Organisation valuation agreement. They will also need to have considered whether they are able to use, and would benefit from using, any of the available simplifications or facilitations, including deferring customs declarations for standard goods. Traders who choose not to defer their customs declarations will also need to ensure that they have considered how they will make those declarations to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs systems, and, of course, whether or not they will use an intermediary. From January 2021, traders who are exporting goods to the EU will need to make export declarations and ensure that they have the right certificates and licences required for entry. While there is still work to do, substantial progress has been made to ensure that we all fulfil our promise to the British people and take back control.
The freedom to control our own borders brings many benefits. Our plans mean that we can introduce a migration policy that ensures that we are open to the world’s best talent, and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has set out further details of that today. A new, points-based immigration system will ensure that we can attract the scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs who can power future economic growth. It will also help us to ensure that our NHS attracts the very best professionals from around the world to our hospitals. The new technology that we are introducing will allow us to monitor with far greater precision exactly who and what is coming into and out of our country, enabling us to deal more effectively with organised crime and other threats.
Control of our borders also means that we can choose the right trade and commercial policies for this country. The border operating model that we have published today provides clarity about the end-to-end journey of goods on the move between Great Britain and the EU, including information about controlled goods and the new Government systems that will support future trade. I place on record the Government’s gratitude to the border sector for the practical knowledge, enthusiasm and expertise it has brought to the development of the operating model, which is the result of extensive consultation and collaboration.
It is important to note that, as the document makes clear, the border operating model does not cover matters relating specifically to the Northern Ireland protocol. I reassure the House that guidance specific to Northern Ireland will be published in the coming weeks and on an ongoing basis throughout the transition period.
With autonomy comes the freedom to be practical and pragmatic in implementation, which is why, in the light of coronavirus and to give business and industry more time to adjust, we announced last month that border controls would be introduced in three stages up to 1 July 2021. In the first phase, from January 2021, traders importing standard goods will need to prepare for basic customs requirements. Full customs declarations will be needed for controlled and excise goods—such as alcohol and tobacco products—but people importing standard goods will have up to six months to make their declaration and to pay tariffs. Traders moving goods using the common transit convention will need to follow all the transit procedures.
In the second phase, from April 2021, we will require all products of animal origin, regulated plants and plant products to have pre-notification and the relevant health documentation. Any physical checks will continue to be conducted at the point of destination.
In the third and final phase, from July 2021, traders moving all goods will have to make full customs declarations at the point of importation and, of course, pay relevant tariffs. Checks for animals, plants and their products will take place at border control posts in Great Britain.
When we announced our approach to controls last month, we also confirmed that we would be building new border facilities in Great Britain to carry out the required checks, as well as providing targeted support to ports to build new infrastructure. The £705 million funding injection that we announced yesterday is on top of an already announced £84 million grant to ensure sufficient capacity in the customs intermediary sector. That money will be used to do just that: to prepare our border infrastructure for all the changes by improving and developing IT systems, recruiting more personnel and building new border posts.
The actions that we are taking today are an important step towards readiness for the new opportunities that Brexit can bring. It is time for our new start—time for us to embrace a new global destiny—and therefore I commend the statement to the House.
I thank the Minister for advance sight of his statement. I associate myself with his comments about Dave Prentis, a great trade union leader who is always fighting for a better deal for public sector workers.
It is vital that businesses and jobs are supported and that the oven-ready deal that the country was promised is delivered on this year, yet frankly many of us are worried about whether the oven was even turned on. Alarm bells have been ringing in the Cabinet this past week, expressed by the Secretary of State for International Trade in her extraordinary letter to the Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer written on 8 July. The letter presents a picture of chaos, complacency and confusion right at the top of government. Let me highlight to the House those concerns.
First, the Trade Secretary expresses concern that the UK will be vulnerable to a World Trade Organisation challenge. Will the Government publish their advice and analysis of risk and cost to the Government of such a challenge?
Secondly, the Trade Secretary highlights that there are EU-facing ports where the infrastructure to implement controls does not currently exist. Will the Minister give the country and, indeed, his Cabinet colleague reassurance by publishing all relevant delivery plans, land purchases and rental agreements, with timescales and risks—and not just for the port of Dover? The Labour party wants to see British firms exporting. We do not want to see their goods stuck at ports or, indeed, in lorry parks.
Thirdly, the Trade Secretary is concerned in her letter that traders from the rest of the world could export their goods to the UK through the EU and, in her words,
“undermine the effective operation of our trade policy”
and undermine the collection of tariffs due. How will the Government prevent smugglers from exploiting the phased-in approach to the border? What is the estimated loss to tariffs as a result of the six-month delay to UK border checks on imports travelling through the European Union?
Fourthly, on Northern Ireland, the Trade Secretary said that the digital delivery of the dual tariff system in Northern Ireland is a high risk and that HMRC is planning to apply the EU tariff as a default from 1 January. She adds:
“This is very concerning as this may call into question NI’s place in the UK’s customs territory.”
Those are her words. What risk do the Government attach to that? What reassurance can the Minister provide that the commitments made in the Government’s command paper on Northern Ireland will be fully honoured, and why do we have to wait until the end of this month for the details on Northern Ireland to be published? It is all very well announcing a multi-million pound advertising campaign, but if the right hon. Gentleman cannot persuade his bestest friend in Cabinet that everything is going according to plan, it is hardly surprising that the country is anxious and confused.
A month ago, the Prime Minister said that there was “no reason” that a deal could not be reached by the end of this month. Will the Minister update us on where we are in terms of being on track to meet that deadline, with a deal agreed in the next fortnight? The Government have previously estimated that there will be up to 400 million customs declarations per year. HMRC said that they would cost £32 each, adding up to a staggering £12.8 billion bill for business. Does the Minister have any updated assessment of those numbers and the cost to UK firms?
It is also reported that HMRC is not planning to test the systems until November—a handful of weeks before they are needed. Will the Minister explain why those checks are not taking place sooner, and will he outline what recent engagement the Government have had with Scottish and Welsh Governments on state aid policy prior to the announcements today? More than half of UK trade will experience greater delays, costs and barriers, so what percentage of UK trade will enjoy easier trading terms on 1 January next year?
The best way to help all businesses to prepare is, of course, to agree a deal with the European Union on the terms that we were told to expect. That means no fees, charges, tariffs or quantitative restrictions across all sectors. It does not mean, as we heard in the statement today, customs, physical checks, export declarations, a commodity code, and economic operator restrictions and identification, and it certainly does not mean a living document with guidance that changes day by day.
I am sure the Minister will agree that we should never make promises that we cannot keep, so will he guarantee that the promises made to UK businesses and workers in the Conservative party manifesto in December last year will be honoured, because they are not consistent with the statement that he has delivered this afternoon? Last week, the Chancellor of the Exchequer stood at that Dispatch Box and said that he will do all he can to support British business. Today, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster stands at the same Dispatch Box and is wrapping those businesses in red tape and sending them to a super-sized lorry park in Dover. For the sake of all workers worried about their jobs and all business owners anxious about their future, we need the Government to get this right. I am not convinced that today’s statement does that.
May I thank the hon. Lady for her questions and also for her commitment to working collaboratively to ensure that we get the best possible deal in our negotiations with the European Union. Progress has been made, but there are still significant differences between ourselves and the European Union. None the less, I did think it was significant and welcome that, for example, in the Joint Committee, Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič conceded that it would be no longer appropriate for the EU to have an office in Northern Ireland. That is an example of the flexibility that I know Michel Barnier and others are applying in the broader negotiations, and I will seek to update the House on progress in those negotiations at an appropriate time.
The hon. Lady asks about the compliance of our approach with our legal obligations under the WTO. We are absolutely certain that, having taken legal advice, we are compliant. Indeed, Lars Karlsson, a customs expert who appeared before the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union recently, said that the issue raised was “not a problem” and that there was no
“violation of international customs principles and the international legislation that the UK is part of under the WTO.”
Of course, it will be removed—the correct process we are taking—on 1 July.
The hon. Lady asks about infrastructure at EU-facing ports. I stress that there are no plans to build a new lorry park at Dover. Indeed, the chief executive of the port of Dover, Tim Reardon, said—again, to the Select Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn)—that it is
“fair to say”
that traders are
“likely to be ready for the paperwork required to get into and out of France, because those requirements have been set out very clearly for some time now.”
The hon. Lady asks about the danger of lost tariffs. There is no danger of lost tariffs. Every importer will have to pay tariffs; we are simply making sure that the process is staged. It is also important to stress, as a number of those involved in the haulage and freight industries have emphasised, that this phased approach is a sensible and pragmatic way to ensure that we can be in a stronger position.
On the situation in Northern Ireland, the hon. Lady asks whether the EU tariff is the default. No, it is not. She also asks about state aid. State aid subsidy control support for businesses is important, but it is also a reserved matter.
Finally, I quote again from the chief executive of the port of Dover, because the hon. Lady is understandably anxious to ensure that business has all the opportunities we would want to see in the covid recovery. He said that
“being outside the European Union customs code puts the UK in a position where it can develop processes that suit the UK in the 21st century. We do not need to stick with a legacy customs process whose origin can be found in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in the year 789.”
It is time that we modernised our border and time that we took back control, and that is what today’s announcement will do.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. I have just stepped out of a meeting with the British Chambers of Commerce, and it very much welcomes the acceleration in implementation, investment and certainty for British business, although it wants as much of that as quickly as possible.
I ask for clarification on two technical matters, and I shall choose my words carefully. First, as long as the Joint Committee is satisfied that goods in transit from GB to Northern Ireland are not at risk of travelling on to the Republic of Ireland, while there may need to be some data transfer, there will be no need for a full import customs declaration to cross from GB to Northern Ireland.
Secondly, now that the implementation of the final UK-EU border will be effectively phased to July 2021, which could violate WTO rules, there will be legal certainty that there will be no extension beyond July 2021, and Parliament can provide that legal certainty in UK primary legislation if it is required.
I am very grateful to the Chair of the Liaison Committee for his thoughtful and detailed questions. On the first, which relates to the Northern Ireland protocol, there will need to be the provision of certain information to ensure that the UK plays its part in the implementation of the protocol by helping to protect the EU single market. We will say more about that later this month.
We are entirely satisfied that the phased implementation of controls is compliant with WTO procedures, but my hon. Friend is right to stress that that is because it is a temporary regime, and we will ensure that there is no alteration to the timetable we have set out.
Here we are: the end game of the disastrous and tortuous Brexit, all summed up neatly in the not-too-catchy slogan, “Let’s get going.” Dominic Cummings must have been up all night thinking of that one.
We are now to have an economic downturn precipitated by covid and compounded by the Government’s hard Brexit. It does not matter what chaos Brexit will bring or what damage it will inflict on the economy—the decimation of key sectors, the chaos at the borders, the threat to livelihoods. All that is supremely inconsequential to all the anti-EU obsessives.
“Let’s get going,” says the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and we in Scotland intend to take him exactly at his word, although perhaps not quite in the way he intended. We fully intend to get going—going from this Government’s disastrous Brexit Britain: 54% of the Scottish people now support Scottish independence, and that support is only going to go up.
As for the Tories, all they can now try to do is impose their will on a recalcitrant Scotland. Their latest wheeze, of course, is to curb devolution, to attack the powers of the Scottish Parliament and to impose a UK single market on a Scotland wanting out of their UK. This, my Brexiteer friends, is the new UK superstate. Remember that word, superstate, when its nightmarish controlling horror was so chillingly and wrongly assigned to the European Union? The superstate is arriving for Scotland, but it is not wearing gold stars on blue; it is wearing a Union Jack. All this will do is turn the trickle of remainers who are now supporting independence into a full-going flood.
All I can say to the right hon. Gentleman is that we will not be participating in this new UK single market, or making it work or implementing it. The only thing we will be doing with it is using it as a recruiting sergeant for more people to support independence. I suppose he now has two choices when it comes to Scottish independence. He could do it easily and conveniently in partnership with us, or he could draw it out in a useless self-defeating process of attrition. Either way, we win. Enjoy your Brexit, my Conservative friends. We will not be coming with you. You may be getting going from the EU, but it is right that we are getting going from the UK.
It is always a pleasure to see the hon. Gentleman, and it is particularly good to see him in his place here in the Chamber. I have to say that that is a particularly brave move, however, given the comments of the First Minister of Scotland over the course of the weekend, because if, as rumoured, the quarantine regulations mean that people cannot move from England to Scotland, he might well be imprisoned in his place here for far longer than he ever anticipated. However, I for one would be cheering if that happened, because I so enjoy his company.
As is the hon. Gentleman’s wont, and his right, he chose to skate lightly over the detail in his response, but he nevertheless made a number of important points. He suggested that, as a result of our departure from the European Union, we would be curbing devolution. That is not the case. More than 100 powers will be returned to the Scottish Parliament as a result of our leaving the European Union. Far from being a power grab, it is a power surge for all the Parliaments of the United Kingdom He also made the point that it is the Scottish National party’s policy to leave the UK but to then join the European Union, which would mean that all those powers that will flow to the Scottish Parliament would be returned to Brussels. This would include the return to the EU of Scotland’s capacity to regulate its own fishing waters, just as Scotland was previously shackled to the common fisheries policy. So the SNP’s position, curiously, is to demand fewer powers for the Scottish Parliament and more powers for the European Commission. Not, I think, a popular view in Fraserburgh.
The hon. Gentleman talked about our proposals, which are designed to ensure that Scotland’s businesses and citizens can continue to sell their goods and services into the rest of the UK. Instead of welcoming that collaborative working, he talked about these policies being a recruiting sergeant for independence. I could say that the mask had slipped, but he has never worn a mask to hide his intentions. He is a separatist and a nationalist. I love him dearly, but as long as he cleaves to that ideology, I am afraid we have to recognise that he is in the wrong boat.
The people of Rother Valley voted overwhelmingly for Brexit four years ago, yet still we are here. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the public want to hear more about the opportunities that will come from leaving the European Union, rather than the scaremongering and doing down of our country that we keep hearing from the Opposition Benches?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It was the democratic decision of the whole United Kingdom to leave the European Union. There are significant opportunities, and one of the points that I alluded to in my statement is that, as businesses prepare for the export requirements that will be needed when we are outside the customs union, that will also equip them all the more powerfully for the new trading opportunities that exist across the globe.
The right hon. Gentleman says that he is not intending to create a massive concrete lorry park in Ashford. I would gently point out that if the lorries arriving there do not park up and stop, it will be very hard for people to check their paperwork, so the lorries will be parking. Will he clarify something about the site? Will it be used just to check that lorries leaving the UK have the right paperwork, so that they do not clog up the system at Dover and Calais, or will it be used for checks on goods coming into the UK in lorries—or both? And will it be operational, along with the goods vehicle movement service IT system, by the end of this year?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, because he gives me a chance to clarify a number of points. The hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) suggested that we will be building a lorry park at Dover, but as the right hon. Gentleman points out, we are moving infrastructure away from the port. As the chief executive of the port of Dover, Tim Reardon, pointed out to his Committee,
“one of the most helpful things that came out of the Government’s announcement…was the commitment to construct new control infrastructure away from the port…away from the key pinch point”.
Combined with the GVMS system, to which the right hon. Gentleman alludes, that will ensure that we have a free flow of freight and none of the anticipated problems that have been mentioned. That investment in infrastructure will ensure that lorries move out of the UK to the EU with our high-quality goods.
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend, with his acknowledged administrative flair, is responsible for this. I want to raise an esoteric point, which has been brought up by constituents consistently. What will replace the regime that has successfully allowed our constituents to travel in their thousands with their dogs across the channel? Will he try to ensure that the existing pet passport arrangements for dogs and other pets are able to continue after the end of this year?
My right hon. Friend makes an important point. Like me and many of his constituents, he is a proud dog owner. Scarlet Mitchell is a previous winner of the Westminster dog of the year competition.
People cherish the opportunity to travel with their pets. If we are not a listed country, there will be additional procedures that pet owners will have to follow beyond those that currently exist, but we are confident that we will be a listed country because we have none of the health risks that the countries that are not listed by the EU have. I am confident that my right hon. Friend and Scarlet Whoosabootiful Mitchell—I believe that is the full name of his pet—will be able to continue to visit France.
May I inform the Secretary of State that, as a member of the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union, I find it rather negative of him to take out of context some of the quotes from the witnesses who have given evidence to the Committee? I have heard all the evidence since I have been a member, and my view is that we are heading for a disaster. What would he say to a leading businessman in my constituency, who said that we are staggering because of coronavirus? He said that it is like coming out of the ring having gone 15 rounds with Anthony Joshua, only to find, with the chaos of leaving Europe, that we have Tyson Fury for another 15. Is it fair to do that to our great British public?
Seconds out, round one, I am tempted to reply. The hon. Gentleman knows that I have great affection and respect for him. Indeed, it was his questioning in the Select Committee that helped to elucidate some of the opportunities that leaving the European Union can bring. The customs expert Lars Karlsson, who spoke before the Committee, said:
“It is a great opportunity because part of the UK’s strategy and global vision for trade opens up a totally new industry here”,
which can be more efficient and bring additional benefits to British business. It is important of course to be aware of the challenges, but also the opportunities.
With so many of our small and UK-wide businesses struggling to survive following the covid crisis, the idea of adding additional friction and cost to the trading relationship with their biggest market is deeply problematic and worrying. My right hon. Friend has worked extremely hard for the country over the past few months, but I urge him to do everything he can to ensure that the UK gets a deal with minimal tariffs and minimum friction.
I again thank my right hon. Friend for the role that he played in reconstituting the Northern Ireland Executive earlier this year, which of course has made the whole process of agreeing the approach towards the Northern Ireland protocol and safeguarding the rights of Northern Ireland citizens significantly easier. We should all be grateful for his leadership in that role, which helped advance the cause of peace. On the specific point about securing a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union, I am completely with him. I think that it would be better, as the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) also mentioned, for us to have the zero-tariff, zero-quota approach that we can secure through a comprehensive FTA, but I should add that whether or not we secure that FTA, many of the steps that I have outlined today will be required by business as “no regrets” steps anyway.
At the end of March, I was told by the Minister for Patient Safety, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Ms Dorries), that
“any European Union centrally authorised”
covid-19 vaccine would
“be authorised in the UK”
during the transition period, and that the Government were
“working to ensure that UK patients can access the best and most innovative medicines”
beyond 31 December 2020. Can the right hon. Gentleman now guarantee that, whatever else changes at the end of this year, there will be no risk of any delay after 31 December in the UK acquiring a covid-19 vaccine in comparison with countries in the EU?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his question. It is the case that there is global collaboration through the CEPI programme to try to ensure that all countries that are determined to deal with the covid-19 threat can work together to develop a vaccine. We have relationships with European and other nations, which are there to ensure that we are in a strong position to be able to provide a vaccine for our citizens once one is effectively tested.
Buckinghamshire has more microbusinesses than any other county in the country. What steps is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that those very smallest firms are fully aware of the steps that they will need to take so that they really can get going with the new opportunities they will enjoy after the transition period?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. In Buckinghamshire and elsewhere where there are microbusinesses, they can take advantage of the new information campaign that we have provided. There is an online checker, which will allow them to judge whether they have taken the appropriate steps to be ready to trade. They can also register for regular updates to ensure that they are making progress in a timely fashion, and of course the provision of additional funding for customs intermediaries will ensure that they can have an appropriate freight forwarder or other in order that they can continue to trade freely.
It is perfectly clear from the right hon. Gentleman’s statement that we will actually get more red tape rather than less, as well as additional cost and risk to employers, especially those who employ EU nationals, as they will have to register as Home Office sponsors for the first time. Can he tell me how much that will cost businesses up and down the UK? Does he agree that it is Scotland that is checking, changing and going, with 54% of people now supporting independence?
The hon. Lady talks about migration. It is the case that Scotland will benefit, as the whole of the UK will, from a points-based system that ensures that we can have top scientists in Scottish universities and gifted clinicians in Scotland’s superb hospitals. She also refers to an opinion poll. Of course, we had a vote on whether Scotland should be independent in 2014. As it happened, slightly more than 54% of people voted for the United Kingdom to stay together and to be stronger together. We were told that was a once-in-a-generation vote, and I know that that promise will be honoured.
My right hon. Friend may be aware that I consider the decision to put an outbound emergency lorry park in my constituency, near where several thousand new homes are being built on one side and with a large hospital nearby on the other side, to be wrong-headed. Can he confirm that when the Transport Minister writes to me that it is not the Government’s plan to develop this area as a permanent lorry park, that is indeed Government policy, and will he let the House know what environmental impact assessment has been done for the site?
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who does a brilliant job standing up for his constituents. It is not the case that any specific site has been absolutely confirmed. We are in commercial negotiations with a number of sites, and as and when they are confirmed I will let him know. It is also the case, as he rightly points out, that some of the infrastructure will be temporary and some will be permanent. May I extend to him and to all Kent Members of Parliament an opportunity to come into the Cabinet Office to discuss with me and officials the approach that we are taking? I hope that I can provide him and other colleagues with reassurance in that process.
There are five and a half months to go and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster still cannot even confirm the site. Will he at least reply to my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), who asked specifically whether there will be checks at the lorry park on goods moving to the European continent and coming into the UK? My right hon. Friend also asked—this goes to the heart of the concern raised by the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green)—whether the lorry park will be operational along with the goods vehicle movement service IT system by the end of the year. Can the right hon. Gentleman at least give us that assurance?
It is the case that the GVMS will be in place, as all the systems will, so that we can have a fully operational border, and of course the additional infrastructure—the £705 million that we have announced today will ensure that it is in place in time—will be there specifically to ensure that when vehicles arrive in Calais they have passed through all the necessary checks and can then proceed smoothly to market.
Many businesses in Rugby trade with companies across Europe, and I wonder therefore what assessment my right hon. Friend has made of their current state of readiness for the end of the transition period. Will he say a little more about the steps he is taking to ensure that retaining and growing that business becomes easier, rather than more difficult?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. A significant number of businesses have taken significant steps in order to prepare themselves for life outside the customs union and single market, but one of the reasons for the campaign we are launching now is to ensure that every business has the information it needs. I hope to work with my hon. Friend and other hon. Members in order to ensure that business has the support it needs to take advantage of the opportunities and also to deal with the changes that are coming next.
Today’s statement sets out the brutal reality of Brexit for the GB to European Union interface but does not address Northern Ireland. We do not have the luxury of a phased roll-out—things have to be in place for 1 January—so can the right hon. Gentleman give us a firm commitment that there will be at least the same level of detail as that published today before the end of this month for the Northern Ireland protocol, given that we have at least five different regulatory checks that have to be put in place?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for drawing an appropriate distinction between the border operating model between GB and the EU and the Northern Ireland protocol, and it is the case that more detail will be published later this month. Indeed, the Specialised Committee is meeting later this week in order to refine that.
At the weekend, the shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that these measures were “too little, too late”, but would we not have left the EU earlier and with less uncertainty had it not been for the attempts of Opposition Members to dither and delay and postpone our exit from the European Union, denying the will of the people of Gedling and the British people?
My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. I exempt the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) from any criticism, but it is the case that, while she might have wanted more spending on infrastructure, one of the things that her party was committed to right up until the general election was staying in the customs union and the single market. It was Labour policy then not to spend this money at all and not to implement this programme at all but, as I have said, I exempt the hon. Lady from any particular criticism, because I know that she is committed, like I am, to doing the best for British business.
In today’s statement, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has acknowledged some of the costs and attempted to highlight the opportunities of Brexit, but opportunities in financial terms currently equate to zero. Those who said leaving the EU would mean additional costs and bureaucracy were right, and some of these costs are now becoming clear: more money, on top the £100 million previously spent, on comms, and now £705 million on border infrastructure—no frictionless trade after all. When will the Government be in a position to respond to the 50 questions raised today by the Food and Drink Federation, particularly the how?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. I and my colleague the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will respond to the Food and Drink Federation’s helpful questions. The FDF has been a valued partner in our preparation for our departure from the European Union and I would like to pay tribute to Ian Wright and all those who work for the FDF for making sure that they work with us in order to provide every part of the supply chain with the information it needs.
By my reckoning, the grant being offered to the customs intermediary sector will probably cover the costs of the customs officers that will be needed for about a couple of weeks, so what estimate has the right hon. Gentleman made of the annual cost to UK businesses of complying with the new customs rules?
I should gently correct the hon. Gentleman: it is not the case that the grant is there for customs officers, HMRC staff or Border Force staff. The £84 million is there for customs intermediaries, who are commercial actors, and, as was pointed out in the quotations that I used earlier, this is a significant opportunity for the UK to grow rather than retreat.
I have been speaking to local business bosses recently who are very much looking forward to having the opportunity to trade freely with the rest of the world. With that in mind, will my right hon. Friend confirm what support will be available for those individual businesses following the launch of the “Check, Change, Go” campaign?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right: there will be significant new opportunities, and as businesses prepare for life outside the customs union with the help and support that we are announcing today, that will equip them more easily to take advantage of global trade opportunities. We will make sure that there is a field force of appropriate advisers to supplement the online checker, which I know he and I will bring to the attention of the businesses in our constituencies.
In this latest Brexit bingo read-out that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster presented to the House, he wanted to talk about optimism and opportunity, but let me press him on a point that was not in the statement, relating specifically to the Erasmus scheme. Many young people at Lochend Community High School in Easterhouse were able to take part in the Erasmus scheme. With five and half months to go, what hope and opportunity can he offer them, or is it the case that this Tory Government are taking away that opportunity?
After consultation with the devolved Administrations, we are negotiating to seek a potential continuation of involvement in the Erasmus scheme, as we are seeking to continue participation in scientific collaboration as well. One thing that I would say about the fate of children in Easterhouse and in other parts of Glasgow is that their life chances have fallen backwards relative to other parts of the United Kingdom as a result of the education policies that the Scottish Government have put in place. It used to be the case that Scotland was ahead of England in international league tables for reading, writing and mathematics. It is now the case that Scotland has fallen behind, and the response from the Scottish Government has been no longer to participate in some of those international comparisons. Hiding from scrutiny is no way to help Scotland’s children.
As the Government invest in new border control infrastructure to ensure that we can continue to trade smoothly with the EU once we go beyond the transition period, does my right hon. Friend agree that that will create more local jobs to support ports such as Grimsby and Immingham?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. It is the case that Grimsby and Immingham are hugely important ports not just for EU trade, but for rest-of-the-world trade. As I mentioned in quoting from the authoritative figures who appeared in front of the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee, there are significant opportunities for people to play a role in the expansion of international trade. These are new jobs, which are designed to make sure that Britain goes global.
Last September, the Minister acknowledged that there is a material risk of long delays at Dover. Will he tell us what his current assessment of that risk is? The Freight Transport Association pointed out that there are only 300 spaces in the lorry park at Calais, where thousands of lorries coming from Dover are likely to be checked every day. Is he now proposing that all 10,000 lorries heading for Dover will be checked somewhere in the UK before they arrive there? How many officials will it require to carry out those checks, and will he tell us the shortlist of locations where those checks might be carried out?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for referring back to the time when I appeared in front of the Exiting the European Union Committee, chaired by the right hon. Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn). The situation has changed since then as a result of the investment that we put into infrastructure and the refinement of systems and greater clarity. I quoted earlier Tim Reardon of the port of Dover, who said of hauliers:
“It is fair to say that they are likely to be ready…because”
the requirements that they have to fulfil
“have been set out very clearly for some time now.”
I am confident that the steps that we have already taken and the announcement that we are making today will help to ensure the free flow of trade.
In my constituency I have Holyhead port, which is the second busiest roll-on roll-off port in the UK. We have seen investment in Dover. Can my right hon. Friend assure me that the freight in Holyhead will be checked, and what does that mean for jobs, skilled employment and investment, which are so desperately needed in Ynys Môn?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reminding us of the vital role that the port of Holyhead in Anglesey plays. I had the opportunity to visit Holyhead last summer, to see the superb work that was being undertaken by her constituents. I can assure her that, whether it is trade with the Republic of Ireland or beyond, we will do everything we can—working, of course, with the Welsh Government—to ensure that the commercial opportunities for those in Holyhead who do so much for our trade are enhanced.
Vauxhall and the workers who keep it going are fundamental to Luton’s economy, and a third shift of workers are starting, so that the company can meet the high demand for our tremendous Luton-made vans. However, without a tariff-free trade agreement, future investment is uncertain for manufacturing across the country. Without soundbites or slogans, can the right hon. Gentleman tell me what genuine progress has been made towards a trade deal that protects the future of car manufacturing in the UK?
The hon. Lady makes an important point. The success of the automotive sector in not just Luton but Sunderland and across the United Kingdom is a matter of importance to people across the House. That is why we are pursuing a zero-tariff, zero-quota arrangement. As she will know, there has been significant onshoring of capacity from other European countries into the UK, not least in Sunderland, and that is something we want to build on. I will do everything I can to ensure that she and other MPs who represent constituencies with significant automotive interests are kept informed about the progress of our negotiations, because of course, we put the interests of her constituents first.
I thank my right hon. Friend for updating the House, as he does on a regular basis. I wonder whether he has had an opportunity to see the report published today by the Centre for Social Justice entitled “It Still Happens Here: Fighting UK Slavery in the 2020s”, which estimates that there are 100,000 modern-day slaves in this country. Allowing free movement of people has made that a lot easier for evil human trafficking gangs. Can he confirm that, from 1 January, we will take back control of our borders, and that one of the huge benefits will be that we can clamp down on these evil gangs?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. He has been a consistent opponent of modern slavery and human trafficking and has done an enormous amount to draw it to the attention of others and to demand and secure appropriate action. It is only right that Members across the House recognise the consistent campaigning energy that he has brought to this important issue. It is also important to say that, as we take back control of our borders and move to having greater data and a more effective approach to monitoring who and what comes into this country, we can play an even more prominent part in dealing with that evil trade.
No amount of soundbites or slogans can distract from the fact that Brexit, which I regret, has already made a lot of people poorer. That will only continue, and I have a concrete example. From January, a married couple in my constituency who are in their early 70s will need to pay £166.22 per month to replicate what they already have through the European health insurance card, which they are losing against their will. Would the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster like to come to Stirling to explain to them how their freedom and opportunity to pay more money to replicate what they already have makes their life better?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who was a distinguished Member of the European Parliament, for raising that case. I would be more than happy to come to Stirling and to receive additional information about the specific case that faces his constituents. It would be my pleasure to do everything I can to ensure that we can resolve the system. On the basis of what he says, I think there may be some miscommunication, but let me commit to doing my very best to resolve the situation on behalf of his constituents.
When we leave the EU we will no longer be subject to the Official Journal of the European Union and, as my right hon. Friend knows, public sector procurement contracts are now worth about £250 billion a year. So will he change public sector procurement rules to ensure that any large private company bidding for a public sector contract must have an apprenticeship commitment guaranteeing that a certain proportion of its workforce will be apprentices?
My right hon. Friend makes a very important point. He rightly says that outside the EU we can shape our own procurement rules, in our own interests, and that we should do everything possible to encourage the wider spread of apprenticeships, which do so much to improve social mobility and indeed the effectiveness of British manufacturing. I will look in detail at his specific proposal to see what we can do.
I will be able to provide a breakdown, port by port and region by region, in due course, but of course we want to work with the Welsh Government to ensure that appropriate infrastructure is in place not just in Holyhead but at other ports. I am grateful for the Plaid Cymru endorsement of UK Government spending in Wales in order to strengthen our Union.
Does my right hon. Friend recall that last year some Opposition Members were clambering aboard the Eurostar to tell the Commission not to agree a deal? We left with a deal, despite what they said and their best efforts to block it. Does he agree that we will end the transition period on good terms at the end of the year, despite what some have been saying throughout this process?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. As I said earlier, I exempt the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) from this, but some Members of other parties did seek to work with the Commission against the interests of this country, and the country decided what it thought of that on 12 December.
With the threat of a no-deal Brexit last year, drug stockpiles were established to reduce the risk of shortages, particularly of insulin, which is largely imported from the EU. What state are those stockpiles in now? If businesses are struggling to prepare for Brexit in the middle of the covid crisis, how does the right hon. Gentleman expect healthcare services to manage?
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. As the whole House knows, she is a very distinguished NHS consultant and she is right to raise the issue of insulin, along with that of other drugs and medical devices we need. The Health Secretary and his Department are working with mine to ensure that we have stockpiles for any eventuality, but I will look forward to updating her, with the help of my right hon. Friend, in due course.
I listened carefully to all the questions coming from those on the Opposition Benches about paperwork and checks, but when my right hon. Friend is talking about these issues will he remind the public that more than half of our trade comes from outside the EU, that data is transferred electronically and so there is very little paper, and that we check things only where there is a risk to our border? We do not open every vehicle and we are not going to do it in the future.
My right hon. Friend makes an excellent point. He is right to say that some who comment on these matters sometimes take an antiquated view of customs procedures, suggesting that every consignment is opened by a uniformed figure who pokes around for hours on end. In fact, this is a streamlined electronic process, one which, as he rightly points out, has also seen the share of trade that the UK has with the rest of the world grow and the share it has with the EU diminish, even while we were in the single market. The changes we are making will provide us with an opportunity to be even more effectively integrated with the growing economies of the world.
Scots were told that remaining in the Union and Brexit would assure Scotland of a powerful voice in the world, while independence would mean being a small nation without influence, like Ireland. Now that Ireland has a seat on the UN Security Council, the President of the Eurogroup, the chief economist of the European Central Bank and the EU Trade Commissioner, can the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster tell me where Scotland’s powerful equivalent is?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who of course was a very distinguished Minister in a previous Scottish Government. I will take nothing away from the achievements of the people of the Republic of Ireland, led as they are by their new Taoiseach Micheál Martin. They can look confidently to the future. However, it is a fact that, were the policies he advocates to be taken forward, we would find a border control at Berwick, you could not use the pound sterling in Stirling, and, as a result, there would be economic turbulence for the people who I know are closest to his heart. That is why I believe we are stronger and better together. As a result of having talented advocates like him in this Westminster Parliament, we can achieve more for all parts of the United Kingdom.
The UK leaving the European Union provides some fantastic opportunities for this country, but inevitably, as we leave the EU, new procedures will be used at the port of Dover. What plans have the Government put in place to communicate with foreign lorry drivers going through Kent to ensure that there is no excessive delay?
As I mentioned earlier, there are a number of potential sites in Kent and we will make sure that, whichever site is chosen, the appropriate procedures are followed to safeguard not just the commercial life of the nation but the interests of nearby residents.
Last year, the previous head of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs said that less than half of the 130,000 UK businesses exporting only to the EU had engaged on likely changes. While understandable then, it is vital that that changes now. Will my right hon. Friend strive to deliver the comprehensive free trade agreement that everyone on both sides of the England Channel needs? Will he also mobilise the army of British Chambers of Commerce, the Federation of Small Businesses, growth hubs and other organisations to make sure that their seminars are planned as soon as possible, with frequently answered questions, so that when the rules change on 1 January our many exporting small businesses do not find this a surprise?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I should say that he has been a very effective advocate for Britain’s global trading future, making sure that rising economies in east Asia have the opportunity to work well with UK businesses. He is also right that we need to work together—Government, business representative organisations and others—to ensure that businesses are prepared. He is right that we do want a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU, but whether we secure that agreement or not outside the customs union we will need to adapt to a new approach. We need to work together to ensure we can do that properly.
I was asked by a friend yesterday why I wanted to be a Conservative MP. My answer, very simply, was empowerment. I have always felt that the Conservatives are all about giving people the tools and choices to make their own lives better. Does my right hon. Friend agree that, after all the predictions of doom and blatant scaremongering from Opposition parties, which, sadly, we are still seeing here today, it is that word “empowerment” that is key to the UK forging a positive way in the world and on which we must be completely focused on all sides of the House and in every nation of our Union?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. As we know, a majority of people in Wales voted to leave the European Union. They did so as part of a United Kingdom, because they believed it was important that more powers flow to this Parliament, as they will also flow to the devolved Administrations, so that those who represent them are empowered to take decisions in their name. His friend asked him why he wanted to be a Conservative. May I say that I am very glad that he did choose to become a Conservative MP? He is a huge asset to this House. If anyone were to ask me exactly why I became a Conservative MP, I would have to return and reply to the House in due course. All I will say is that it is a pleasure to be on the same Benches as my hon. Friend.
I am greatly concerned, as are very many of my constituents, that the lorry park announced in the newspapers will cause serious tailbacks, another summer of traffic chaos and particular problems for those who are travelling to the nearest A&E department at William Harvey Hospital. Can the Minister assure me that this issue and the potential alarming rise in air pollution—it was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Kim Johnson) but not properly answered—are being addressed properly and seriously for east Kent?