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UK Exports: Germany, Italy and Ireland

Volume 692: debated on Thursday 15 April 2021

What recent estimate her Department has made of the value of UK exports to (a) Germany, (b) Italy and (c) Ireland in 2021. (914113)

The UK greatly values its trade with each of Germany, Italy and Ireland. All trade data is currently volatile, especially due to the pandemic, but data released earlier this week showed a monthly upwards bounce in UK goods exports to the EU to £11.6 billion in February from £7.9 billion in January, including increases to all three countries referred to in the question.

I appreciate that those on the Government Benches prefer breathless rhetoric to harsh reality, but the statistics to which the Minister refers are really quite clear for rural Scotland. Its meat exports remain down 52%, fish and shellfish are down 54%, dairy and eggs down 39%, beverages down 34%, cereals down 40%, and fruit and veg down 54%. Would the Minister like to apologise to the tens of thousands of people across rural Scotland who are in daily dread and fear of what their economic future holds?

I thank the hon. Member for that follow-up question, and I wonder if, to coin a phrase, he has perhaps taken his eye off the ball, because actually there was a bounce back in trade in February. I will give him an independent view from the Office for National Statistics, which on the trade data says:

“Exports of food and live animals to the EU increased…in February 2021, after being significantly impacted in January… Exports of fish and shellfish to the EU also saw an uptick in February 2021 as exporters adjust to new regulations following the end of the transition period. The disruptions to food exports in January 2021 appear to have largely been overcome and may have only had short-term impacts on trade.”

That is from the Office for National Statistics, which he may seek to consult.

I am delighted the Minister has quoted the ONS, because figures out this week show economic output remaining nearly 8% below the pre-pandemic peak and exports to Germany, Italy and Ireland down by as much as 50% to 75%. These are not teething problems; they are the bite of long Brexit. Does the Minister agree with Matt Griffith from the British Chambers of Commerce that his members are experiencing a

“permanent deterioration in their competitive position due to higher admin, paperwork and shipping costs”?

It is good to have an argument about statistics, but actually the UK exports to the EU in February of £11.6 billion were only just below the monthly average for the whole of 2020, which was obviously very impacted by the pandemic, of £12 billion. I would caution against using statistics in this way—we need to see the bigger picture—but I refer the hon. Member back to what the ONS said. On the help we are providing for exporters, we have various Government helplines, the Brexit business taskforce, Brexit SME support and various measures in place specifically to support the agricultural sector and the Scottish seafood sector.

Let us come away from statistics and back to what is happening. JP Morgan boss Jamie Dimon wrote to staff this month warning them that it will move all its EU-faced business out of London and into Europe. He says:

“Brexit was accomplished, but many issues still need to be negotiated. And in those negotiations, Europe has had, and will continue to have, the upper hand.”

The financial services sector is a huge employer in Scotland, and it is also facing this Westminster-inflicted disaster. Can the Minister now see why people in Scotland want to have their choice and their say over their own future?

The hon. Member will know that there is of course a financial services memorandum of understanding between the UK and the EU, and we are acutely aware of the importance of the financial services sector, not least to my constituency as well. Many, I have to say, were surprised when the SNP voted for no deal on 30 December, especially after Nicola Sturgeon called it “unthinkable”. However, I have to say that I was not as surprised, because over the years I have seen the SNP vote against every single UK or EU trade deal, so the idea that it was going to vote in favour of a trade deal between the two of them was, frankly, highly unlikely. The SNP is anti-business, anti-jobs and against Scotland’s best interests.