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Outstanding EU Trade Issues

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 21 April 2022

7. What recent discussions she has had with Cabinet colleagues on resolving outstanding EU trade issues. (906456)

This Government have delivered the first free trade agreement the EU has ever reached based on zero tariffs and zero quotas. Our collective focus is now on implementing that agreement, ensuring that it delivers for our citizens and businesses. We have established the export support service as the first point of contact for UK businesses looking to export to the EU. Since its launch in October, it has received over 8,000 unique enquiries.

The export support service is clearly not working. In 2016, the Vote Leave campaign promised us tariff-free trade with the EU with minimum bureaucracy, not another support scheme. We find ourselves in a bureaucratic nightmare with freight delays and red tape blocking what was once hassle-free trade. SMEs in my constituency simply cannot afford the legal advice that is needed to navigate all that red tape. That is no surprise because HMRC data has shown that British trade with the EU has fallen significantly. Can the Secretary of State tell us when the Government will finally deliver on hassle-free, tariff-free trade like we were promised, or will she finally admit that this was never going to happen and that this trade fiasco is going to be the norm for us from now on?

As I said, the agreement reached has zero tariffs, which is exactly what the hon. Lady asks for. If there are specific businesses in Streatham that have issues and have not been able to get support from the export support service, she should contact me and my team, because 96% of all those who have used it have said to us that they would recommend it to others, which I take as a sign that the system is working. It is there not only to support those who have trouble but to help with discovering how to access new markets. Exporting is often considered difficult, but if we talk to those who do it, they say that they want to champion others. Our export champions, which are businesses that volunteer to speak to others and encourage them to export, are there to help those who are considering it. I would be happy to put some of her local businesses in touch with them as well.

Supply chain resilience is very important to EU trade. Will my right hon. Friend advise us on how often she has conversations with our colleagues in the Department for Transport and how helpful they have been?

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that I have discussions with many colleagues across Whitehall on a regular basis. The supply chain resilience question has obviously exercised all of us, and our businesses, ever since the problems when covid hit and we had to have so many new ways of thinking about our supply chains. We are now having to support our businesses, including those that have had supply chain issues through Russia and Belarus and are struggling to find new supply chains. There is a very strong and continuing thread throughout Whitehall to make sure that we support all our businesses. If anybody knows of any businesses that are struggling, they should contact us directly or through the export support service.

I very much hope that the Secretary of State will agree that her Department’s business is not just about making deals but about making sure that those deals work for UK businesses.

This month, again, the British Chambers of Commerce has cited Brexit red tape as a cause of export stagnation, while IT systems failure has contributed to massive gridlock in Kent, the Road Haulage Association has warned of perishable goods going bad, and the Cold Chain Federation has said that Britain is being seen as too much hassle to deal with. So what exactly are the Secretary of State and her Cabinet colleagues doing to clear up this mess and to provide the efficient, smooth-flowing export routes to the EU—our biggest trading partner—that our businesses and hauliers deserve?

A number of factors have contributed to short-term delays at different points, including ship refitting, roadworks, bad weather, and the loss of a DFDS ferry due to damage, as well as checks for operators and issues on the other side of the channel. The volume of traffic through Dover means that some queuing is commonplace. I and those across Government continue to monitor that situation. The Department for Transport, in particular, is engaging very closely with the port of Dover, the ferry operators, industry groups and local stakeholders to ensure that the smooth running of trade can continue.