I talk regularly with businesses, business representatives, and ministerial colleagues about how we can make exporting easier for businesses across the country. That is why I was delighted to announce our new Scottish trade hub in September, which is staffed by expert trade advisers and dedicated to helping Scottish firms to grow internationally. I am pleased to say that our work to reduce barriers to trade and increase exports is paying off; the UK overtook France in 2019 to become the world’s fifth-largest exporting nation. All nine of the other 10 largest exporting nations in the world saw their exports fall last year, according to UNCTAD, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development—the exception was the UK.
Around 250,000 businesses export to the EU and not to the rest of the world. Many of them are small, not VAT-registered and difficult to reach, and to continue to trade they will need to go through a long and tedious process to acquire an economic operator registration and identification number. As the party that wants to reduce red tape, what action are the Government taking to reduce the administrative burden to ensure that SMEs can continue, or start, to export into Europe but do not suffer disproportionately from a madcap Brexit?
We are working to engage with businesses, and I recommend that all businesses that have not done so go to gov.uk/transition and look at the practical steps they need to take to prepare for the end of the transition period. From my engagements with Scottish businesses, though, it is clear to me that it is the relentless pursuit of Scottish independence, rather than the support for Scottish business, that they find the concern. I want to ensure, by using the power of the Union and our global reach, that we can boost Scottish business; otherwise, if follow the path of independence, we know that would lead to a shrinking of Scottish business and a loss of opportunity for Scottish people.
Rod McKenzie, the Road Haulage Association’s policy director, gave evidence to the Scottish Parliament in which he highlighted a no-deal Brexit scenario in which lorry drivers would be forced to rely on European Conference of Ministers of Transport permits, of which the UK has been allocated around 4,000, despite more than 40,000 being required. In effect, that would stop the best part of 90% of companies trading with Europe. What assurances can the Minister give today that traders and hauliers will experience minimal disruption?
As the hon. Gentleman knows, we have been working flat out to engage with businesses, to provide easements on the customs regime up to July next year and to make sure that we minimise the challenges as we end the transition period. Of course, the issue that Scottish businesses raise with me is that the biggest threat to their trade is not any friction as we move to the new settlement on the EU border, but the fact that 60% of all Scottish exports go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland—more than to the rest of the world combined. It is that, and the threat that the hon. Gentleman poses to Scottish business in that way, that really worries them for the long term.