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Trade with the EU

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 2 December 2021

UK trade in goods with the EU has been increasing this year. According to the latest data available, goods exports in September were up by 5.7% on those in the previous month.

Between 2019 and 2021, the value of exports from Scotland decreased by 24%. In England the figure was 12%, in Wales it was 24%, and in the north of Ireland it was 15%. This follows a period of steady decline since 2018. It is economic vandalism. There is hardly a sector in the country that does not attribute at least some of the blame for its difficulties to Brexit. What agreement that removes all tariff and non-tariff barriers do the Government plan to make with another country that can account for 48% of all UK trade?

Goods exports between Scotland and the European Union were up 4% in quarter 2 compared with the same period last year. We are getting growth back after a period of dealing with the pandemic and other shocks to the global economy, and I ask the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues to start focusing on those opportunities. I have had discussions this week with representatives of pretty much every other political party—I have talked to parliamentarians, metro Mayors, local enterprise partnerships and all sorts of bodies around the country in preparing for the further negotiations that we will have in the forthcoming weeks—but I have not heard a peep from his party.

If the members of the Minister’s party had not cold-shouldered the positive and constructive suggestions made by the Scottish Government immediately after the referendum—if they had even bothered to open and read the document—we might not be in the mess that we are in now.

This month, our figure has improved slightly from an all-time low, which is nothing to celebrate. Exports of food and drink from the United Kingdom to Europe have halved. The Food and Drink Federation has described that as a “disaster” and said that there have been only tiny gains in other markets. There was never going to be a Brexit that would be good for British businesses, but why do the Government not finally come clean and admit that their botched handling of Brexit has made the position even worse?

I ask the hon. Gentleman: what possible good could come from plugging every part of the UK economy back into the global economy, including the trading powerhouses of the future in emerging parts of the world? What possible good could come from championing a free trade policy globally that would end trade distortions and lift millions of people out of poverty? What good could come of that? I urge his party to get focused on those opportunities and to work with us and enable us to work with the businesses in his constituency to seize those opportunities. The country has decided that that is the future for the United Kingdom. I do wish that he would get on board.

Is it not interesting that my right hon. Friend highlights the recent increase in exports to the European Union, in stark contrast to the doom and gloom that we heard from our opponents, who are saying that there will be a catastrophe and collapse in trade? Will she focus on the countries in central and eastern Europe and the Three Seas initiative—some of the fastest-growing countries on our continent—and build strong bilateral trade agreements with countries such as Poland and others?

I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the opportunities that exist there. Clearly, we had good news recently on exports, but we also had fantastic news about inward investment and he is right to be optimistic. I think that our businesses are going to thrive in this new environment. There are some challenges that we have to address, but they are being addressed and we can see from the numbers that this is paying off.