I beg to move,
That this House has considered international trade and geopolitics.
I thank right hon. and hon. Members from across the House, and the Backbench Business Committee for granting the debate today. I declare my interests as set out in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I applied for this debate because I am concerned about Britain’s standing in a world that is changing more quickly than we appear to be responding. From trade and industrial policy to innovation and skills, we have just sticking-plaster policies and no long-term economic plan. There is no strategy for UK plc that shows the path to prosperity, and I hope this debate may trigger some answers from the Government on their plan to drive economic growth within the UK and through exports abroad.
The era of increasing globalisation that we have come to know over the past decades is coming to an end. We are now in an era of economic retrenchment, higher levels of state subsidy and new forms of partnership between the public and business, but how is the UK responding? Ministers are merely saying to competitor countries, “This is not how you’re supposed to play the game,” but they are not listening, and we are losing. There are several factors underpinning these changes: geopolitical competition between China and the United States; war in Europe and security tensions in Asia; the need for democratic nations to show their people that our system of government can deliver good jobs, good pay and prosperity; the net zero transition; and the technological arms race in both its military and civilian contexts.
Based on current data, our direction of travel as a country is not a good one. Only this morning, the Government announced that the UK fell from being the fifth largest exporter of goods and services in the world in 2020, to seventh in 2021. Our trade deficit has ballooned from £2.3 billion to £23.5 billion, meaning that we are exporting fewer goods and services, while being increasingly dependent on other countries for our own supplies. According to the International Monetary Fund only last week, the UK is set to have one of the worst economic growth projections of the seven most advanced economies. Even Russia, to our shame, is projected to experience better economic growth than we are.
Our drop in exports to the European Union, coupled with the Government’s deeply short-sighted decision to agree a trade deal that blocks the sale of most UK-based services to the EU, while allowing the EU to sell services to us, has been a structural blow to the UK economy. In that context, our high levels of national debt, which have increased year on year since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, have put us in a fiscally precarious position. The Government should be ashamed of their record on UK national debt. We all remember David Cameron and George Osborne telling us that the Conservatives would fix the roof while the sun was shining. But what do we have now, 13 years after those promises to the country? A national debt that is projected to be larger than the entire size of the UK economy. A national debt that has increased year on year—yes, in response to covid and the energy crisis, but it was also increasing year on year before those crises.
It is a great pleasure to be part of this debate and to listen to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope he will not mind me picking him up on this point. He kindly acknowledged that the sizeable increase in UK debt is due to the response to covid, and I do not think he has concerns about the major schemes that comprised that. He also talks about the increase in debt that occurred in the intervening years. Will he accept that for each of those intervening years, the Labour party was calling for more expenditure and more debt?
The hon. Gentleman and I, perhaps surprisingly, share something in common, in that we would like to get the national debt under control. He will recognise that his party was in government for each of those years from 2010 when debt increased, year after year. The Opposition can come forward with policy proposals, but he must take some responsibility for the fact that the Conservative party was in government, taking decisions that resulted in a significant amount of national debt before covid and the energy crisis, due to the mishandling of Brexit, the inadequate trade deal with the EU and to the failure of austerity economics, which cut our public services back to the bone without adequate investment to create opportunities for economic growth in the future.
One might have assumed that in that context, the latest form of Conservative Government would wish to do everything they can to underpin, support and incentivise growth in the UK economy. Their most whizzy recent announcement has been the UK’s entry to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership for trade in Asia—a trade arrangement that is estimated to grow the national wealth by only 0.08%. It is a trade arrangement with 11 countries, nine of which we already have a trade deal with, and one that will pose due political challenges to the UK as China seeks to join it too.
My hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful case. Does he agree that geography still matters when it comes to trade, and if we as a country choose to make our trading arrangements with our biggest trading partner, which is still the European Union, more difficult, more costly and more bureaucratic, that is bound to have an adverse effect on the British economy?
I think everybody recognises that that is completely right, and my right hon. Friend recognises that with both the European Union and the United States, the bulk of our trade exists in this bit of the planet in which we find ourselves. Trade with Asia is welcome, but it will not be able to deliver larger economic opportunities for the UK than trading with our closest partners. Our arrangement with the CPTPP could cause conflicts in future trading negotiations with the European Union because of issues such as embedded carbon in the case of imported goods. Although we might want to do more trade with the European Union in line with our net zero targets, that might cause difficulty with imports from parts of Asia.
China’s growing assertiveness on the international stage is rightly cause for concern, and the CPTPP is an example of where the Government need to be cautious. If China is successful in joining, it could block Taiwan’s application in the face of growing tensions between the two. Does the hon. Gentleman believe that the UK Government should formally acknowledge Taiwan’s sovereignty?
It’s not that old-time! As the hon. Gentleman will realise, the Benches are not replete with Members for his debate, so I hope he will continue to be generous.
The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on an important issue, and this could be an informative debate on both sides. He has just mentioned one potential conflict between this country’s trade engagements and those of others, regarding our engagement with the European Union and with CPTPP, and different paces of change when dealing with net zero. As Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, will he give the House a little more detail on his thoughts about what this country’s pace should be, and in particular his views on the carbon border tax?
I will do so briefly so that I do not test the patience of the Chair too much, given the number of pages I have left to read before the end of my speech. My initial observations are that it is in the UK’s interest to be a global leader on the net zero transition, both because that is the right thing to do and because it is a significant industrial opportunity, and that we should be partnering with the European Union to do so through our trade deal. In my view—I have not taken evidence on this; it is just my view—that would generate a larger rate of return for the British economy and British people than some of the other opportunities that have been presented.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that in pursuance of net zero and the decarbonisation agenda, the automotive industry, for example, faces significant challenges in ensuring not only that we have a self-contained supply chain, but that we can engage with the European Union on our doorstep given restrictions on rules of origin? Will that present a difficulty, and is there an opportunity with the review of the trade and co-operation agreement to address that issue once and for all?
My hon. Friend is exactly right, and electric vehicles are a prime example. He and I were in Sweden last week on a Select Committee visit to look at how its electric vehicle battery manufacturing looks in comparison with the UK. If we are to continue to export cars to the European Union, we will have to hit the so-called rules of origin requirements where the components come from local or regional sources. Eventually they will have carbon embedded within them, in order to meet carbon border adjustment mechanisms and net zero targets. It is therefore crucial that the UK Government work with the private sector successfully to deliver that industrial policy outcome, or I fear we will see the near total decline of car manufacturing in the UK. While it is not for me as Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee to prejudge the conclusion of its inquiry into this issue, the contrast between what we saw in Europe last week, and what is happening in the UK, was stark.
May I cast the hon. Gentleman’s mind back to his comments about the CPTPP? The Northern Ireland constituency that I represent has a large farming and agricultural manufacturing sector, and we export right across the world. Businesses in my constituency tell me that they are looking forward to opportunities that will potentially arrive from the far east. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that farming in Northern Ireland has the potential to grow more, and that part of that growth will be in the far east through the CPTPP? If that grows, there will be extra jobs, extra opportunity, and real growth in my constituency and across Northern Ireland.
I have to take the hon. Gentleman’s suggestion at his word as he knows much more about his constituency and farming than I do. If there are export opportunities that is great, but the question is whether that will deliver the wholesale economic growth that we need across the whole UK economy. It will be an important piece of the puzzle, but my proposition is that there is a much broader area where there are problems, and where Government policy is lacking.
In Sweden last week, we learnt about the sheer complexity of delivering a so-called gigafactory for electric vehicle battery manufacturing. We held in our hands, physically, fossil fuel-free iron made using hydrogen, which was being turned into low-carbon steel. I finally saw, after years, a carbon capture facility working, plugged in and capturing carbon in real life. Here in the UK, we just have ministerial statements setting out our intention to be world leading, without anything real or tangible to show for it. The British people will soon realise, if they have not already, that at the end of this yellow brick road set out by the Government there are just Conservative Ministers blowing smoke. The tragedy is that this is not just a dream: it is 13 years of Conservative economic mismanagement that will take years to clean up.
This sorry story is not just about what is happening in the European Union; it is about what is happening in the United States, too. During our Committee visits last year, it quickly became clear that the US is doing what Europe is doing, but on steroids. The Inflation Reduction Act, which is really a green new deal for the United States, sets long-term, multi-decade, easy-to-access tax incentives, grants, loans and market-setting standards to not only drive the net zero agenda but reinvest in the industrial capacity of the United States. This $500 billion multi-decade initiative is acting like a magnet, pulling investment, jobs and businesses into the American economy. Access to those tax incentives, grants and state-level support is predicated on agreements to train and employ Americans in areas that have been crying out for investment for years. In some circumstances, it is even predicated on business owners investing in childcare to help optimise the economic activity of the American labour market, including women.
Was my hon. Friend not struck by the stark report on Sky News, I think from Ed Conway, from AMTE Power in Thurso, one of the British manufacturers of car batteries? It was indeed attracted by the Inflation Reduction Act, so much so that we risk that factory—a gigafactory we do have—being relocated to the United States. Should that not be sending a signal warning to the Government that time is not on our side?
Once again, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why the European Union has responded to what is happening in America, but what do we have here in the United Kingdom? I tried to be generous to the Government in a collegiate fashion, but the only thing I could find that allowed me to give the Government credit was the recent establishment of the Office for Investment, whose job it is to secure inward investment to the UK. But it has no budget.
As I understand it, when two American businesses looked at the UK as an investment destination, they did not know who to contact. Was it the Department for International Trade, the Department for Business, the Department for Transport, the Treasury, the regional mayor or the local council? The Germans, meanwhile, put together an inward investment package with significant incentives and the Americans presented a map with different options in different states, topped up with significant federal incentives. In the UK, we have an Office for Investment whose job it is to go around Whitehall, cap in hand, trying to put together an offer within existing budgets. The tragedy is that the reason those companies were looking at the UK in the first place was that we have great natural resources: huge potential for low-carbon fuel energy supplies, great industrial clusters, world-leading research and development, and great pools of highly skilled labour. But we just did not compete and we lost out on both investments.
Let me take another example, which we have already talked about: the semiconductor industry. The United States is securing multibillion dollar inward investments, as too are the Europeans. As my Committee concluded in its recent report, while we will never have end-to-end supply chains in the UK, we should be collaborating with our American and European allies to agree that the UK invests in the parts of the supply chain where we excel: chip design and advanced compound semi- conductors. Britain can play a crucial exporting role within a multinational supply chain. So when the Government take decisions to decline or unwind Chinese-linked investments, such as Newport Wafer Fab, they must follow through with finding new investment and new owners. Instead, we have a semiconductor strategy that is now even more delayed than it was already because, as it was reported, Ministers cannot decide who is going to announce it. Meanwhile, other countries are racing ahead of us.
It seems to me that we have Ministers stuck in the headlights of a changing world, convinced that the best thing to do is for the state to get out of the way and let the free market fix our problems, praying that someone, somewhere might find the sunlit uplands of post-Brexit Britain that Conservative Prime Minsters promised to deliver—while our competitors race ahead of us. The question, therefore, is what should we do about it? Beyond the obvious points of having a proper industrial policy, ideally a stable Government, a stable economy and a stable policy framework; beyond the obvious point that we continue to fail to highlight the importance and value of the service economy to our exports—we are the largest exporter of services in the world after the United States—and beyond the obvious point that we must improve our trade deal with the EU, what can we do that is new, global and in Britain’s interests?
We should be leading the debate about a new model of multilateral co-operation between democracies. We clearly already collaborate on defence matters, but what we define as critical supply chains or as critical national infrastructure, what we think resilient supply chains should look like to create economic security for our countries, and how we collaborate as allies and partners to show that democracies will continue to prevail over authoritarian regimes—those issues warrant a new partnership, a new model of multilateral working. It is in Britain’s interest to lead that debate and to play a central role in it.
Some will understandably say that there is a risk of decoupling the existing post-war institutional frameworks. My response is that this is already happening and that Britain can do little to stop it. That does not mean walking away from the UN, the World Trade Organisation or the G7—of course not. And it certainly does not mean Britain should play fast and loose in breach of agreed global rules. But it does mean that we must respond to lead and to influence what happens next.
If this Government had a real mission-led approach to the UK economy, we would see co-ordinated strategic action from No. 10, the Treasury, the Foreign Office, the Department for Business and Trade, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and others. But we do not. We do not see that because the Prime Minister does not have an answer. He cannot tell us what our path to prosperity is, what he thinks our unique selling points as a country are, or how Britain will maintain its standing as one of the largest, most advanced economies on the planet.
I have had the good fortune, over the past few years, of being able to represent our Parliament in many countries. From Brussels to Washington, Sydney to Tokyo and elsewhere, I keep being asked, “Are you guys okay? What’s happening to the UK?” It is embarrassing and it must stop.
It is a factual statement. The hon. Member is chuntering from a sedentary position, as I think we say in this House, but I can assure him and the House that on many occasions that is the exact conversation people have had with me.
I hope that the Minister, when she responds, will be able to inform the House, on behalf of the Prime Minister, how this latest round of Conservative Ministers are going to clear up the mess of all the former ones over the past 13 years. The Minister and I know that the opportunities for the UK are there to be taken; that the British people have within them the drive, energy and potential; that our islands and our seas give us the potential not just to lead the net zero transition at home, but to export it abroad too; and that our greatest minds, entrepreneurs and universities mean we can ride the wave of the technological revolution in the interests of the British economy and the British people. We can achieve all those things, but only if Britain has a Government with the leadership, the ideas and the energy to start delivering. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
It is an absolute pleasure to follow that very detailed and impressive speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones). My speech will take a slightly different tack. As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Kashmir, I want to talk about the geopolitical significance of Kashmir. I think everybody here accepts that the UK’s security and safety are paramount in trade agreements, but I want to talk about the importance of human rights in those agreements as well.
Many Members will know that Kashmir is located between Pakistan to the east, India to the south and west, and China to the north. There is also Afghanistan, which borders Kashmir on its north-west frontier. There is a very good reason why Kashmir is known as the longest running territorial dispute in the world. Basically, the British—us—messed it up and that has had a long-running impact. According to some historians, prevarication by the then ruling Hindu maharaja at the time of partition contributed to violence breaking out in Kashmir, as he alone was given the choice of whether the majority-Muslim Kashmiris should join India or Pakistan.
The unfairness of the decision to accede to India was rigorously challenged by Pakistan at the time and since. It was the first significant threat of conflict since world war two, and the newly formed United Nations took it very seriously. Hon. Members will be aware that several UN resolutions exist today, but the most significant is the UN Security Council resolution 47 from 1948, which called for a plebiscite—a referendum—of the Kashmiri people to determine their future.
The line of control was established between Pakistan-administered Kashmir, or Azad Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan, and Indian-administered Kashmir, or Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. It is very well-guarded by the respective armies. There is also a United Nations military observers group permanently based there, such is the seriousness of the border issues between these two nuclear powers—and we must not forget China to the north, so three nuclear powers. When I visited Pakistan and Pakistan-administered Kashmir in February 2020—unfortunately, I could not get into India and Indian-administered Kashmir—the officers of that team, who are completely independent and have no axe to grind from any country, convinced me of the fragility and serious threat to global peace of the stalemate over Kashmir.
There are several reasons why Kashmir has been, and will continue to be, fought over. First, Kashmiris are immensely proud of their home and their heritage. Many of my constituents have relatives who live there, and I hear the pride in their voices when they speak about Kashmir. Secondly, and key to this debate, there are vast material resources across Kashmir, including timber, minerals, land and water. For example, Kashmir provides much-needed water for agriculture in both Punjab and Sindh provinces. The third reason is the geopolitical significance of the region to an emerging and increasingly powerful China.
On the second reason, the 2019 unilateral revocation of articles 370 and 35A from India’s constitution, which removed the special status and relative independence that Indian-administered Kashmir had enjoyed, has led to mining activity in areas that the World Bank and others are concerned may lead to flooding in an already flood-prone area. That could endanger lives and ecology. Kashmiri-owned companies that have traditionally mined in Kashmir were unable to compete with outside Indian corporations for mining rights, as the continued throttling of internet speeds prevented their participation in the online bidding process. The elimination of Kashmir’s forestry laws in favour of Indian federal law has been harshly criticised and is resulting in devastating deforestation. But water is the region’s most important and at-risk resource. It has not just regional but global significance. That is the third reason why Kashmir is strongly contested.
In the last two years, China and India have been at loggerheads at the line of actual control that separates China from IAK, as each seeks to develop infrastructure along the border. Some argue that the diversion of water is the biggest issue. However, tensions are extremely high after recent clashes, including the deaths of both Indian and Chinese troops in 2020 and reports of shots being fired at the line of actual control for the first time in 45 years—there are not meant to be any weapons at the line of actual control. More clashes were reported at the end of last year.
The poor relationships have trade implications. As we have seen, trade between India and Pakistan fell significantly in 2019 after the revocation of articles 370 and 35A, with negligible exports to India from Pakistan. It is also having a detrimental impact on trade across Kashmir. One of the key asks from the Kashmiris and non-governmental organisations I have spoken to is to rebuild the economy and provide jobs for Kashmiris. Opening the line of control is vital to achieving that— I was told that it would not only promote trade across the region but allow families to reconnect. Given that the G7 is being hosted by India this September, and will include meetings in Srinagar in Indian-administered Kashmir, I hope that India will consider reopening the line of control crossings at Lithia, Chakothi and Tetrinote, to allow trade as well as community and family reunions. I ask the Minister to respond to that point and to agree to raise this issue with the Indian high commissioner. Given India’s record trade deficit to China, which last year reached more than $100 billion for the first time, this might be a seemingly insignificant but symbolic gesture to Kashmiris and the international community, including Pakistan and China.
China has heavily invested in its so-called One Belt, One Road initiative, which it says is part of its vision to improve trade routes across Asia and parts of Africa. In Gilgit-Baltistan, in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, land has been sold off to develop infrastructure projects as part of the China-Pakistan economic corridor stretching across Pakistan and the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region of China. The first of those is a dam, which, in addition to water storage and flood control, will also be used to generate power. However, it has come at a heavy financial cost to Pakistan, which is funding the developments via loans from China.
My final point concerns human rights and trade. The UN produced two reports on human rights abuses in Indian-administered Kashmir and Pakistan-administered Kashmir—the first in 2018 and the second before the revocation of articles 370 and 35A. They are quite shocking to read—and I do not want to stretch your patience, Madam Deputy Speaker. They include the reported killings of civilians by off-duty police and army personnel with impunity, and the failure to independently investigate and prosecute widespread reports of sexual violence by security services personnel. This list goes on. I invite people to read them. Pakistan-administered Kashmir has also been challenged about human rights violations, including the Government having control over affairs in Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan, hence the sale of land for the Pakistan-China economic corridor.
Most importantly, the human rights abuses have not abated. We are in the process of negotiating trade agreements with India. I feel very strongly, as do thousands of people, that we should begin to consider who, what and how we trade with Governments that systematically abuse their citizens. We must commit to making the delivery of human rights explicit in any UK trade deals with India and Pakistan, or any other country.
It is good to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to take part in this debate. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on introducing the debate this afternoon.
I would like to make a fairly brief contribution in the context of the UK’s changing international trade landscape and accession to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership—the CPTPP—by highlighting the potential and the importance of the UK’s trading relationship with Mexico. It is the 15th or 16th largest economy in the world, and an integral member of the CPTPP. Geopolitically, Mexico is a strategic partner for the UK. For businesses, it is a gateway to Latin America, the broader Pacific region, the United States and Canada. In May last year, the Government launched negotiations for a Mexico 2.0 free trade agreement, seeking to bolster and grow our £4.5 billion-worth of bilateral trade.
I have chaired the all-party parliamentary group on Mexico for the last five years, and in November last year I led a delegation of the British group of the Inter- Parliamentary Union to Mexico City and Oaxaca.
Our delegation included the new Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alicia Kearns), and the former trade envoy to Mexico, Baroness Bonham-Carter. We met senior Government representatives, the Mayor of Mexico City, members of the Senate and Congress, state governors and local government leaders. We also met strategic partners of the then Department of Trade and Industry, as well as UK and Mexican businesses and global companies with a shared interest in strengthening our bilateral trade and diplomatic relationships.
There is an active UK business community in Mexico. I am grateful to members of chambers of commerce in Mexico and the Mexican chamber of commerce in London for their guidance and support over the years. I pay particular tribute to our ambassador in Mexico City, Jon Benjamin, and his fantastic team. We keep in regular contact on issues from human rights to strengthening diplomatic relations, both between politicians in the legislatures and between Governments.
A stronger UK-Mexico trade relationship would have far-reaching benefits for the whole of the UK, including for the north-west and for Liverpool, my home city, which I have the privilege to represent in this House. As I have said in the House before, the largest chain of department stores in Mexico is actually called “Liverpool”. It was founded in 1847 and it was named after the city and the port for all the merchandise that was shipped through it. That is just one example of the historical links that exist between our countries.
In 2022, trade between Mexico and the north-west reached £224 million, making up 10.8% of all UK exports to Mexico, which was more than London and the second highest region in England. The most recent data from 2021 shows that in Merseyside alone, 153 businesses exported goods to Mexico and 68 businesses were reliant on imports from there.
UK-wide businesses depend on Mexico for various specialised manufactured goods, including cars, tele- communication equipment, power generators and office machinery. Trade in services is also growing rapidly. The UK financial sector is present in Mexico, with insurance and pensions representing the top service exports, and Mexico, and Latin America more generally, represent the key to boosting two of the UK’s most important future economic pillars: financial tech and the green economy.
Mexico’s appetite for cutting-edge financial tech products and services makes it a natural destination for UK-based fintech start-ups and more traditional financial investment. Mexico also offers significant opportunities for trade in clean technologies. It has had rapidly growing electric vehicle production and export in recent years, and I have no doubt that our growing trading relationship will make it an indispensable partner in our common fight against climate change.
I want to conclude my remarks by highlighting the clear opportunities in education and the wider benefits that can be unlocked, because the benefits of deeper trade ties with Mexico will be more than simply economic. Educational and cultural exchanges are a fundamental precursor to more and better trade. I had the privilege of hosting a recent educational technology—EdTech—inward mission from Mexico in Parliament last month, working with our ambassador in Mexico City and the Department to strengthen ties and develop co-operation in the education sector between UK and Mexico.
It is clear to me that countries across central and South America are crying out to widen access to English language learning for their populations. We need a concerted effort to promote language and student exchange programmes in tandem. As a graduate of the London School of Economics, I had the immense privilege of being part of a global student body, and I benefited in the classroom from the diverse perspectives of students from across the world. I want to see far greater numbers of Mexican, Colombian and Uruguayan students coming to the UK, but just as importantly, I want to see more UK students having the opportunity to spend some of their study time in central and South American universities.
I have had meetings with universities, including the University of Liverpool, as well as with representatives from the Mexican education sector on this topic. Much more needs to be done to encourage UK students to look to countries in central and South America countries as places to study. I ask the Minister: what is being done to expand our study abroad programmes to countries in the CPTPP? One challenge the Minister may wish to take up is how we can ensure the mutual recognition of higher education qualifications between institutions in CPTPP countries.
Mexico is an ally and trading partner of growing importance. By 2030, it will be the ninth biggest economy on the planet, and I welcome the Government’s ongoing commitment to the Mexico free-trade agreement and the benefits that could bring for both countries. In this era of increasingly complex geopolitical dimensions to international trade, Mexico and countries in central and South America deserve renewed attention by Government and businesses across the United Kingdom.
It is a great pleasure to have listened to the contributions so far, not least the contribution just made by the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden). I echo his words about the opportunity to strengthen connections, particularly for our young people, between our country and countries in Latin and South America. The area is often overlooked by Government and it is not high on the list for teachers or in what is learned in schools. His calls on the issue are very welcome. On Monday, at the University of Cambridge, I had the opportunity to talk to a group of Argentinian politicians. From their country’s perspective, I know that is something they would welcome as well.
Madam Deputy Speaker, here is my point: it is an afternoon, we have plenty of time, it is an incredibly interesting and broad debate, and it will not have escaped your attention that the Government Benches are not crowded with participants. Therefore, I beg the indulgence of Opposition Members to make a number of points on a series of areas. [Interruption.] The Minister is asking that they be quality contributions, so I shall therefore make my speech even longer.
I will start by addressing some of the points made by the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), who I think is one of the most talented Members of this Parliament. He and I do have some strong disagreements, sometimes on principle and sometimes on practice. Let me start with two words that encompass the fundamental disagreement we have: industrial strategy.
To the Chair of the Select Committee, industrial strategy is the elixir that somehow unlocks the growth in our economy that proves elusive to all others. Not only that, it is industrial strategy as conceived by the Labour party that somehow has the unique ability to generate growth that perhaps could not be accomplished in other ways. I have always found that intellectual position interesting. When I went to business school and we were given a chance to give three words to describe ourselves to other students, I decided to call myself “arrogant”, because actually at that age—I know it is hard to believe now—I was quite arrogant. But I would never have the arrogance to think that my unique perception of an industrial strategy was the right way to galvanise growth in this country. On that issue, the Chair of the Select Committee and I differ. I would like to hear what he has to say.
The hon. Gentleman is generous in giving way, but as he has put words into my mouth on the record, I ought to correct him, if I may. From our Select Committee’s work on industrial policy and from my comments on that work, it should be clear that I am not somebody who believes that the state is where wealth is created or that the state is in the driving seat of a growing economy. However, when the private sector, which creates wealth, is driving down the road at speed and trying to win the race for workers, customers and shareholders, I recognise that somebody needs to build the public infrastructure for it to succeed if the road runs out.
That opportunity for the state to play an important role in partnership with business is what I refer to as industrial policy. Might I say that it is why so many businesses are talking to the Labour party right now? They are asking for such a partnership with the Government, as opposed to having a Government who stand out of the way and hope the free market will solve all the problems.
The hon. Gentleman reinforces my point. He is suggesting that if a company chooses to use its shareholders’ money to drive down a road that runs out, somehow taxpayers should pay for the extension of the road. The whole point of capitalist markets is that it is a business’s responsibility if it makes incorrect allocations of capital and its shareholders lose money. It is the job of business and business leadership to have the insight to understand how best to create value for shareholders in the long term.
Businesses are now coming to smart Labour Members—who are desperate to show that after years of hating business the Labour party now thinks prawn cocktails are a nice idea—and saying, “Can you spare us a few bob, mate? We’d like to support your party and we’ve got this really sexy thing we want to do, but frankly we don’t want to use our own capital because we know that the Labour party in government will be suckers enough to use taxpayers’ money to pay for it.”
I hope that the hon. Gentleman, as a former member of our Select Committee, will take this point in good heart. Just last week, we visited HYBRIT in Sweden, which has made some incredible advances in creating sponge iron and is on the road to creating green steel. One of its major partners in that enterprise, without which it would not have been possible, is the state-owned utility company Vattenfall. I ask the hon. Gentleman to consider that point.
This country’s version is to plough hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money into the South Tees Development Corporation, transferring those assets to private individuals in return for options for land—for buttons—leaving the state on the hook for the environmental remediations. There could be no bigger contrast with more intelligent responses to industrial challenges. I trust that the hon. Gentleman will take that point in good heart and look at the differences in practice between the United Kingdom and Sweden.
Actually, the hon. Gentleman is exactly right. He and I share a concern for the defence of taxpayers’ money: if it is going to be spent, it should be spent wisely. If a strategy is not working, that is fine, but the point that I raised at the start of my speech was that we hold different points of view on whether industrial strategy per se will be an answer to the problems. My general position is that leaving the market and businesses to themselves and allowing the free allocation of capital in open and competitive markets has proven time, time and time again to be the best way to achieve progress, with better living standards for households in this country and around the free world. That is why the developed nations are the developed nations: because we have supported that approach.
Nobody—certainly no Liberal Democrat —would pretend that wealth is created by the state. It is created by businesses, but what business leaders have said time and again is that the Government need to set a direction. Is it not true that this Government are currently giving no purposeful direction to business, particularly when it comes to the green economy and the transition to net zero?
The hon. Lady is right that businesses like certainty—that is absolutely true. Setting a direction, inasmuch as it creates certainty, is useful; more than that, it is a strong part of the foundations. If we go on to talk about climate change in this debate, it may be that questions about national and international strategies and about what our response should be to issues among British businesses, businesses in other countries and multinationals will drive us apart again.
May I invite the hon. Gentleman to reflect, for the benefit of the House, on his recent involvement in the Conservative report on the reform of economic regulators? I was afforded the courtesy of being shown the embargoed report, but I am not sure whether the embargo has now been lifted and I can talk about the report directly.
Oh, I can. Very good. The report recognises—I invite the hon. Gentleman to confirm or contest this point—that industrial policy is not just about money, but about policy direction, about regulation by economic regulators and about creating the conditions for business to prosper, for entrepreneurs to create businesses and for innovators to innovate. Industrial policy, as I refer to it, is not about somebody in the Treasury writing a cheque for businesses that should get their money from elsewhere, as the hon. Gentleman suggests; it is about the broader competitive market that needs to be created. Of course the Government and Parliament have a role in creating optimal circumstances for businesses to succeed. Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that?
I do. Again, the hon. Gentleman is showing that there are a number of areas in which we can find agreement on the details.
Let me focus on the point about regulatory policy, because it is an important one. A group of Conservative MPs have put together a report calling on the Government to look at how we deal with the stock of regulation, the process of making regulation and my particular area of interest, the accountability of regulators for performance. As Chair of the Select Committee, the hon. Gentleman will be well aware of our interactions with our regulators. Effective regulation, by which I mean regulation that is regularly, systematically and rationally appraised, plays a role in the competitive advantage of the United Kingdom. It is an area that we have locked away, saying, “It’s not nationalisation, it’s not the free market—it’ll do okay.” Those days need to come to an end, because too much of our economic output happens in sectors that are subject to regulators whose performance directly affects the ability of our country to compete.
The Chair of the Select Committee nods. It is nice to have an area of agreement.
Let me move on to the second area about which the hon. Gentleman spoke: the Inflation Reduction Act and the associated EU measures. As he well knows, that Act represents a $370 billion commitment of US federal funds, or their equivalent in tax credits. It followed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021, which meant $1 trillion of investment, not only in infrastructure but in green energy. By purchasing power parity, the US economy is approximately six times the size of the UK’s. An equivalent response, which is what the hon. Gentleman says we need, would essentially require writing a cheque for £40 billion, £50 billion or £60 billion. If industrial strategy is not about expenditure, what are we supposed to be doing to compete, other than putting in that amount of money? There seems to be a part missing.
The hon. Gentleman also spoke about inward investment and said that we should be sharpening up our act. He is absolutely right. In countries such as Germany, which he mentioned, the package on offer to those who are interested in investing is not just a financial package, but a coherent one. When someone looks into making an inward investment, there are people to sort out all the Government intricacies for them at a single point on day one. That is how the UK did it when Margaret Thatcher was leading efforts with Lord Young, but over the intervening years we have made things a little too complicated and we have not found our way. I would be interested to hear the Minister address that point; it may not be directly in her remit, but it would be interesting for all hon. Members present to know the Government’s view. What are the Government doing to make sure people know that the UK can take a foreign company from thinking it wants to invest in this country to actually getting going and investing in this country, whether that involves, say, bricks and mortar or servers? What can we do to make that easier?
I know this sounds as though I am picking the hon. Gentleman’s speech apart. I am not picking it apart but asking questions about it, and I trust he is happy with that. He talked about economic security and collaboration. I think the short-term version of that is called friendshoring, which essentially means saying, “Let us conduct a geopolitical review of important strategic supply chains, and then let us be smart and make sure we are doing business with countries that are our allies.” That is a massive change, because there is no clarity about what the extent of friendshoring areas should be. Does this apply only to strategic industries determined by the United Kingdom, or is it imposed on the United Kingdom because other friends think we should be doing business with someone else? Are we prepared as a country to outsource the way in which British companies do business to the Government of the United States?
The hon. Gentleman is making an interesting point, but does he not agree that when it comes to critical areas of our economy such as energy security and the opportunities presented by carbon capture, utilisation and storage, it makes consummate sense to have strong relationships with those neighbouring countries with which we are aligned? As we face the spectre of Putin, who has caused so much damage to our energy security of late, would it not be infinitely more sensible to look to the new technologies and look to those neighbours to work together in that domain for our mutual economic benefit? Surely that makes sense.
There are two parts to what the hon. Gentleman has said. Is it sensible for us to ensure that our national security is itself sensible, along with some of the elements that are important for national security? I do not think there are too many concerns about that; the issue is, should we be focusing our policy on the issue of only going with our allies, or at least making that the primary consideration?
I think this will be a problem if it becomes part of the international discourse. The Chair of the Select Committee seemed to be talking about unbundling the existing international organisation, paying it respect but recognising the “reality” of what is happening, but then looking at ways in which we can make side arrangements with our friends. I fear that that will mean pooling the understanding of what is a friend and what is not among others, which is a substantial change in the way in which this country seeks to run its economy. My view is that the United Kingdom should be an open society, an open trading economy, and that we should lean primarily towards openness.
Obviously not with Russia. We have already imposed substantial trade sanctions on Russia, and I think there is consensus in the House about what our response should be when one country invades another. However, to conflate Russia with China, which has not, as far as I know, invaded another country, is to move into a different area. My point is philosophical: the United Kingdom’s history of success has been as an open trading nation, and the current push, in this country and others, for us to engage in friendshoring strikes me as a significant change from the way in which, historically, we have created wealth.
The point I made in my opening remarks was that we should recognise, with some humility, that Britain can have only so much influence on these global trends. The hon. Gentleman is inviting us to conclude that were we to do more deals with our friends and allies, as I have suggested, those arrangements would be dictated by other countries; I think he was alluding to the United States of America. My response to that is that Britain should therefore lead the debate, and be involved in how this is developing across the world. If we just sit back and wait to see what happens, we will end up having no influence over the way these things are being designed, which, by definition, will be dictated by others who are leading the global debate. I am suggesting that we, as a smaller country, have global clout, and should be convening and leading that debate.
That is a brilliant point well made, and characteristic of the hon. Gentleman’s understanding and grasp of these issues. He has put his finger on it. I, for my part, am merely raising questions and concerns about the perils of doing something that others may see as somehow buttressing our national security and doing what is right by us. This is not a road we can go down without trade-offs, and there will be some significant trade-offs if we take that road. However, I think the suggestion that we should be an active participant while those discussions are going on is very sensible.
Let me return to the question of money, and the current issues involving the so-called Inflation Reduction Act and the EU. A significant proportion of the funds spent by other countries are being spent on what I would term competitive discovery, which means looking at possible solutions when we do not yet have the solution to a problem. I would place that at the higher end of the risk investment spectrum, and would therefore approach it with caution. It is like dotcom for the green era—not in all sectors, and not all the money is being used for that purpose, but a considerable amount of what we need to do if we are to achieve net zero will require money to be spent on the discovery of solutions.
I am leery of the idea that British taxpayers’ money should be stacked up in competition with taxpayers’ money from EU member states and from the United States. Let me use that dotcom analogy again. When there is a big rush of substantial amounts of funds into discovery on a global scale, yes, there are winners, but an enormous amount of capital is wasted on losers. We have heard, in other debates, Members pushing us to do what President Biden is doing, or saying that we should be doing the same as the EU. Politicians need to remember that that means taking taxpayers’ money which could be spent on education or healthcare, and putting it in the casino of winners and losers in the green tech revolution. We need to be very cautious about spending money in that way.
I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s speech with deep interest. Does he therefore think it would be more reasonable for the UK Government to end its fossil fuel subsidies—we know where that is going, and we have been subsidising fossil fuels for generations—and put the money more directly into green inward investment?
The hon. Gentleman tempts me, but let me answer his question in this way. The 2017 Labour party manifesto was not a hugely sensible document, but a second document was put together by the then shadow Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), in which he enumerated all the tax breaks that were given to different sectors of the economy, which amounted to an enormous sum. As one who can, I think, claim to be a low-tax Conservative, I suggest that those running a more efficient economy would get rid of almost all of them. They would say to those in, for instance, the carbon fuels sector, “You are on your own now. If you do not have enough money, go to the market and raise the money you need from your own shareholders or from other investors to grow your business.” We have had conversations about the level of debt—the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is now present, so he can correct me if I am wrong. I read his document in 2017, and I thought it was an excellent analysis. One point that the Labour party made at the time of that election, about the need to look at tax breaks for large corporations and sections of the economy as a method of public spending, was spot on. We are not vigilant enough in that regard. My own free-market view is that the fairer the market, the lower the subsidy.
Order. I would normally chastise the right hon. Gentleman for attempting to speak in a debate when he has not been present, but I happened to notice that he was in the Chamber although not in his normal place. Given that we are not under enormous time constraints this afternoon, I will be much more lax than I normally am.
As generous and wise as ever, Madam Deputy Speaker.
To reinforce what the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) said, we did that piece of work because we wanted to review every tax relief. In opposition, that is impossible to do, but we would have done it in government. The reason was that we were discovering tax reliefs that had been introduced decades earlier that the Treasury had never reviewed to see whether the original purpose had been achieved or whether they should be amended. Example after example was found, and it was clear that the tax relief system was not working effectively or as it was originally planned.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for taking part in the debate. I do not think I agreed with anything else in the Labour party’s 2017 manifesto, but the point that he has just made is a point for the ages for whoever is in the Treasury.
In addition to my concern about taxpayers’ money, behind the big funding race between the EU and the US to put amounts of money at risk in a casino of green discovery is an open question about the trajectory of unit costs for the materials that will be required by those sectors that will assist us to achieve net zero. When others are rushing to do something, it is a natural human urge to rush to do it too. We can all remember the shortages of toilet paper at the start of covid, which was a shortage for no apparent reason. Because everyone else was buying loo paper, we all thought we should buy it. As we know, that created a surge in unit cost, which abated and—although I have not checked recently—the cost is now back down to a normal market price. As goes toilet paper—perhaps I should not use that phrase—so goes the unit cost for other items. A significant cost will be experienced by early adopters. My question is whether we would be better off participating in that surge in unit costs in an era of technological discovery, or keeping our money in our pocket until the unit costs come down once the successful discoveries have been made.
We should remember that there will always be opportunities for economic gain and financial success, even if the initial discoveries and the bulk of investment are elsewhere. There will always be international flows of trade. For example, in the 1940s and 1950s, most of the motor industry was in the United States, but in the 1970s the UK benefited because it needed to reshore to the UK. That will be the same in other sectors. Look at value-added: iPhones are made in developing countries, historically mostly in China, but most of the value added is in Apple’s design, and the UK has advantages in that area. We can be thoughtful about such areas, but I wanted to put on the record some questions for the Chair of the Select Committee who introduced this welcome debate.
I know that I have tested everyone’s patience with my opening remarks, so I will address another couple of points before allowing time for others. This issue tilts to the Indo-Pacific region, both through the trade arrangements and the infrastructure. The global review that the Government have done is welcome. Much like the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton, who talked about the issues in Latin America, before getting involved in politics I spent a lot of time in the Philippines, Korea and Australia. It was clear that in those areas of the world, there is not only great opportunity for the United Kingdom, but a great recognition of the talents that we have and a great need for the various skills that we can provide in economics, defence and other areas.
When I hear politicians pooh-pooh the impact of CPTPP as a small percentage of GDP, I worry that they are missing the deeper point that it is a bigger connection. It is part of a globalisation of what the United Kingdom does. It is a recognition not that the UK is a big global superpower, but that it is seen by people around the world as having its place and having things to offer. We should look at this trade agreement as just the start of us pushing further into that part of the world in all the ways that we can.
I yearn for the day when we can do a similar deal across Africa. Trading with countries in Africa and opening up our markets to goods and services from Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya and other growing economies is surely not only in our economic interests but in the interests of humanity. The greatest benefit to humanity in economic terms over my lifetime was made by Nixon’s visit to China and its redirection from Russia towards the west, and the consequent movement of hundreds of millions of people in China and surrounding areas into the global trading system. It has been a great sadness to me that the countries in the continent of Africa have not been part of that. For this generation of politicians over the next 10 or 20 years, I hope that we can look to play our small part in achieving that.
As we have a little time and we are debating seriously, does the hon. Gentleman not recognise that cutting ourselves off from the biggest trading partner in the world directly on our shore was the complete opposite of his vision of a global Britain? Of course the European Union also seeks to be open to other trading blocs, other countries and other big nations, and Britain is losing out by having left it.
The hon. Lady has made her point clearly. She asks if I agree, and the straight answer is, “Absolutely not.” Ahead of the referendum in 2016, one of the most important reasons I felt we should look for a different arrangement from our EU colleagues was that I wanted us to focus on trade and economic interests with the laser-like focus of the UK. People can differ on this, but for me being part of the EU was a compromise too far in the pooling of those interests in an ever more competitive world. That is one of the reasons I felt it was right for us to leave.
Beyond that, we just need to look at the subsequent reactions—and I am critical of the UK in some ways, but I am certainly critical of the EU—in the artificial period that we have now thankfully mostly got past, when everyone was trying to be difficult with everyone else. We are all pleased that the Prime Minister has not only achieved in the Windsor framework the resolution, in large part, of many of the concerns in that frictionful period, but indicated his desire that the EU and the UK should do precisely what the hon. Lady seeks—to work together where we can. In our current position, we do that primarily because we are looking to promote our own focused interests.
It has been a pleasure to contribute to this debate. I have been very complimentary about the Chair of the Select Committee, despite the fact that he is a Labour Member. By leading the debate as he has, he has demonstrated that we can agree in substantial areas even if fundamentally our philosophies start from a different place.
I congratulate my friend, the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), on securing this important debate, which I co-sponsored, and on making such an excellent speech that has sparked such an interesting debate.
I know the Government do not want to hear about the loss of international reputation, but I know it to be true. I have lived in the UK since 1990, and I became a proud British citizen in 2006. I am proud to be a citizen of a country that played such an important role on the global stage, and which I have looked up to all my life. I weep that Britain’s global reputation is now in such peril. If only the Government would listen to our neighbours and to people across the world about the loss of international reputation they face. That would be a good way forward.
Is it not lamentable that no Conservative Members put in to speak in this important debate, with only one putting in to speak retrospectively, albeit interestingly? No other Conservative Member felt it was important to participate in this debate.
The world is in crisis. War engulfs Europe. China is asserting itself on the world stage. Protectionism is on the rise, certainly in this country. The doomsday clock, which measures how close the world is to global catastrophe, is now at 90 seconds to midnight, which is the closest it has been to midnight since its inception in 1947.
The President of the United States has defined this century as a battle between autocracy and democracy, and I am sure everyone in this House agrees. Taiwan is one of the world’s most democratic countries. It is an independent country whose people have the freedom to express themselves, and it provides a striking contrast with its autocratic Chinese neighbour. I do not always laud what is done in the European Union, and the French President has stated that Europe should distance itself from the brewing tension between the US and China over Taiwan. Will the Minister please restate the UK Government’s support for Taiwan? I see the Minister nodding, for which I thank her, but I would like her to make a statement in her winding-up remarks.
People are not only threatened by other countries. Climate change is the biggest risk to people worldwide, and it will only exacerbate the world’s insecurity. Climate change is a threat multiplier. A 27 cm rise in sea levels is now inevitable, and it will be devastating for the 150 million people who live less than 1 metre above sea level. Some 1.2 billion people are set to be displaced due to climate change by 2050. If people are concerned about migration and immigration now, they have not seen anything yet.
Conflict will worsen as resources disappear. Research has shown that every 1°C increase in temperature increases the chance of a riot or civil war by 11.3%. NASA has said that climate change is making droughts more frequent, more severe and more pervasive. This means less fresh water is available to each country, causing major problems in the middle east and Africa. Observers have warned that conflict over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam could erupt into a water war.
We need global responses to global threats, so international co-operation is vital. We cannot fight the climate crisis by isolating ourselves from the world. The UK must be a leader and use all available avenues to strengthen global commitments. Trade deals are a crucial avenue to push countries to adopt better environmental standards. Unfortunately, this Government failed to guarantee British standards on environmental protection in the recent trade deals they negotiated.
It has been reported that the Government have already bowed to Malaysian demands to lower tariffs on palm oil in the CPTPP negotiations. That is terrible for the climate because palm oil-related deforestation and conversion of carbon-rich peat soils is throwing millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The trade deals we negotiate have an impact on the climate emergency.
The Government must not set a precedent that our climate commitments are disposable. If we fail to protect our own interests in trade deals, we will be forced to accept lower standards. The UK must implement a set of minimum environmental standards to benchmark future trade deals and to ensure the environment is a priority when negotiating such agreements.
Prioritising the climate emergency would also improve the UK’s global standing. If the UK is to be a significant actor in the world, it must show far more ambition in its green policies. Putin’s war has shown how long-term dependence on fossil fuels can empower hostile regimes. Russia has used Europe’s dependence on its natural gas as a weapon. If the UK had moved harder, faster and earlier towards renewables, Putin would not have had that leverage and our constituents would not be paying the price for his war.
We must invest in the UK’s renewables sector to secure our energy supply, and we must do much more than is currently being done. The Prime Minister has labelled China as
“the biggest long-term threat to Britain.”
China is currently the biggest investor in renewable energy, accounting for just under half of global energy transition investment. We are already seeing the effects on energy supply chains. Cumulative growth in Chinese wind power between 2021 and 2022 was more than three times greater than in the US and more than seven times greater than in Europe. China’s share of manufacturing for solar power already exceeds 80%. If we want to be a global competitor, we have to get our act together.
By 2029, China could have 70% of the world’s lithium-ion battery gigafactories. Without competition, it is set to dominate electric vehicle supply chains. If we fail to prioritise renewable investment now, we risk moving our energy dependence from one autocratic power to another.
Unfortunately, the Government seem content to sleepwalk into energy dependence. At a time when both the EU and the US are introducing massive stimulus packages, this Government have refused to match the US Inflation Reduction Act. Although the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) spoke for more than half an hour, I still do not quite understand the connection between toilet paper and investment in the green transition.
There is no investment in renewables, and the Government have slashed their contracts for difference auction budget for renewables by 28%. These are not the actions of a Government who understand the peril we are in. I hope they finally realise that there will be no coming back and no next time if we miss the 1.5°C target to avert climate catastrophe. The Government must show climate leadership in their investment and their dealings with other countries. Our actions now will determine the future of both the UK and the planet.
It is a pleasure to speak in such a wide-ranging and comprehensive debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) on the knowledgeable and expert way in which he opened the debate that he secured. It is extremely important that we are discussing the various intersections of this subject, as geopolitics is about our interaction with the world not only through our conventional power but through our soft power and trade. The hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) rightly alluded to the soft power we exert and the benefits we offer to the rest of the world through our leading education opportunities.
The Government made a statement on CPTPP earlier this week and, as Members might expect, I questioned the value of that deal relative to how much the Government have lauded what they see as its benefits. Clearly I touched a bit of a nerve with the Secretary of State for Business and Trade, because not content with chastising me in her immediate response, she then took the opportunity in her responses to the right hon. Member for New Forest East (Sir Julian Lewis) and the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) to have a second and a third go at me. I am tempted to say that that might betray a bit of a snowflake tendency, which seems to run slightly at odds with the carefully curated political persona. None of the overhet assertions to the contrary that were handed out to all Members who questioned the CPTPP did anything to dispel my fear that it represents an agreement that will drive down standards, that lacks adequate safeguards for domestic regulation and that represents a poor substitute for all the other trade deals that we have been forced to leave behind through exiting the European Union.
I am sorry to say that that trade and geopolitical picture is not an especially happy one at the moment. UK goods exports are the lowest in the G7 following Brexit and they have not shown much sign of recovery, even since covid. It turns out that putting up trade barriers to our largest export market, and our closest one geographically, carries hefty economic consequences—who could have guessed that? Business investment is not forecast to return to 2019 levels until mid-2025, and the UK is forecast to have the worst economic record of any G20 country in 2023, including, astonishingly, sanctions- hit Russia, according to the International Monetary Fund’s latest forecasts. Its “World Economic Outlook” estimates that UK GDP will contract this year. All of that is compounded by the 4% hit to GDP that we know has come from Brexit. I am left wondering whether there are sufficient trade deals around the world yet to be concluded to ever adequately fill that gap.
This manifestation of the UK Government’s trade policy, a bit like the Australia and New Zealand trade deal, might appear to put some political chalk on the board for the Government, which they would find convenient, but these deals potentially come at the expense of domestic producers and of our sovereignty, through the investor-state dispute settlement clauses, with all the implications they carry. They also threaten to make a mockery of the Government’s oft-stated sustainable trade goals.
I am forced to pose the question: how could matters that we are told are so important to this Government, such as sovereignty, economic growth, domestic production, domestic standards and global environmental and human rights concerns, end up being compromised by the deals the Government then go out to negotiate? Sadly, there is no way to avoid the conclusion that outcomes from those deals will end up being contradictory to the public statements and publicly stated policy objectives, simply because the Government do not appear to have any kind of trade strategy written down anywhere.
In her foreword to “The UK government’s strategy for international development”, a document published last May, the then Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs, the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss), stated that
“in the world we face today our development work must form an increasingly key part of a coherent UK foreign policy.”
There are quite a few reasons why I could take issue with that statement on its own terms, but it is bizarre, is it not, that the Government have a document setting out how they seek to link aid to foreign policy but not one that links their trade policy to their domestic and international objectives? The UK Government certainly do not have a published document to that effect. If they have an internal one, it is clearly not working. This really does matter, not just because of its domestic impacts but because of the negative effect it will have on the international impact that the Government might hope to have.
Let us consider the facts. As it stands, the UK Government are negotiating trade deals on behalf of the UK, the four nations that make up the UK and the devolved Administrations without having a comprehensive trade strategy in place—or at least one that any of us can measure them against. That means that harmful concessions are much more likely in the process of engaging in the wider world, as has already happened, particularly with regard to the agrifood sector. This comes at a time when many countries, including even the United States of America, recognise that trade policies need fundamental transformation to support a step change to a sustainable green economy based on workers’ rights and shared prosperity. However, the UK Government are pursuing a policy of free trade deals, seemingly at any cost, without that framework in place to guide them.
In contrast to the UK Government, the Scottish Government do have a published written trade strategy. It sets out five principles that underpin the Scottish Government’s trade decisions and relationship, which are based around pillars of inclusive growth; wellbeing; sustainability; net zero; and good governance. It positions trade within a framework of a wider economic, social and environmental context and considers the strategic role of trade in contributing to those wider governmental ambitions. The Scottish Government are using all the powers and influence available to them to make tangible progress on delivering on that in support of Scotland’s national strategy for economic transformation. Where powers are currently reserved to Westminster, the Scottish Government are seeking to engage as best as they can with the UK Government to act in a way that acknowledges the interests of Scotland and supports our economy and our people, and the planet.
We saw some news break this week that the Foreign Secretary has written to UK ambassadors and high commissioners around the world to try to get them to ensure that there is a “strengthened approach” to dealing with Scottish ministerial visits, to make sure that the Scottish Government are kept firmly in their box and do not get any ideas above their station in their international engagements. There is a supreme irony here: a Scottish Government who do have a trade strategy are to be chaperoned around the world so that Ministers are kept in their place by officials representing a Government who do not have a trade strategy.
Food security is a matter of key concern, and we have seen its impacts in the bare supermarket shelves, the shortages of certain vegetables and the rotten meat scandal. Clearly, climate change and conflict pay an enormous part in disrupting supply chains, but there is no doubt that leaving the EU has not helped either. It has left us at the end of those strained supply chains and hampered our domestic food production and our ability to acquire food on the open market. So, sadly, we are hit the first and the hardest when those supply chains break.
The integrated review update from a few weeks back said that the UK Government are worried enough that they will be assessing vulnerability in our food system and supply chains. Frankly, it is incredible that that has not happened already. We desperately need a food security resilience plan that looks at that intersection of trade and domestic food production.
The issue of food security has not suddenly crept up on us and we could look at many other areas of the economy too. One key lesson we should have taken from the pandemic is surely that no matter how much we can be ideologically committed to free trade and open markets, there is a fallacy in assuming that this country will always be able to buy whatever is needed at any point on the open market and, consequently, that it is possible or desirable to run down domestic production. Our approach to trade in food should reflect our need to be self-sufficient where that is possible, and it should reflect our values. Food should be produced in ways that keep us and the animals in the food system healthy and safe; it should seek to reduce our global environmental footprint; and it should support high-standards producers at home and abroad who are pioneering the farming and land stewardship methods that will get us to net zero.
In this vacuum, there is a real opportunity to start matching industrial strategy to trade strategy in a way that does not happen at present. There is perhaps no better example of an opportunity in that area than when it comes to technology and the environment, and that is of particular interest to me not just as a Scottish MP, but as a Member of Parliament representing a constituency right at the heart of the energy economy in the north-east of Scotland.
Scotland has the potential to be a green energy powerhouse, creating up to 385,000 jobs, boosting our economy by up to £34 billion a year by 2050, permanently lowering energy bills and embedding energy security by being a reliable energy partner from the resources around our shores and on our landmass. The Government’s own net zero tsar has written about the former Department for International Trade in his most recent report. He notes that
“there is a missed opportunity to further trade in environmental goods which could expand UK exports in these goods.”
He goes on to say:
“Promoting environmental goods and services should be a top priority for the Government…In order to maximise the potential of free trade agreements to make a positive difference for the net zero transition to remove the barriers to trade in climate change products and services, the Government should be establishing a minimum threshold for the environmental provisions which all new FTAs should adhere to.”
I would very much like to start seeing evidence that that is happening.
Finally, I wish to touch on the matter of aid. In November 2022, the current UK Minister for International Development said:
“We used to be a foreign aid superpower, but our reputation has declined.”
Aid cuts are clearly a huge part of that reputationally. My party will once again take this opportunity to reiterate our calls for the 0.7% of GNI spent on international aid—
Order. I hesitate to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I was very lenient earlier in the debate about the length of speeches, because I appreciated that there was plenty of time this afternoon, and I am sorry to say to him that, having been lenient, the plenty of time has run out. Normally, I would have asked him to speak for something like six or seven minutes. I did not do so, because I was not aware that we had run out of time, but I hope that he will help by concluding quite soon.
I am grateful for your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will endeavour to bring my remarks to a controlled and orderly stop very soon.
Having made my point about aid, that seems like a good cue to finish by recalling the words of the NATO General Secretary, Jens Stoltenberg, from last year, when he said:
“Our economic choices have consequences for our security. Freedom is more important than free trade. The protection of our values is more important than profit.”
I am certain that no one in this House disagrees with that, but, in the absence of a clear, coherent trade strategy aligned with a clear, coherent domestic policy, it is impossible for the Government to say that they are acting in the interests of upholding freedom, prosperity, quality of life, quality of environment, social justice or human rights around the world, and that urgently needs to be addressed.
I join the House in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones), the Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, on securing this debate. I am sure that the whole House would agree that he chairs the Select Committee with considerable distinction. The way that he approached this debate and his thoughtful and provocative speech—provocative in the best sense—are testament to him and to his expertise in this area.
We had a very interesting contribution from my hon. Friend the Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams). My hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) spoke in particular about the significance of trade with Mexico and Latin America—a matter that no one else had focused on until that point. We were lucky to have the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) in the Chamber. The whole House will have cherished his contribution as there was no other Conservative Member available. We were 30 minutes into his speech when he made a particularly interesting point on the trade and geopolitical significance of Africa, which I want to return to, if I can, later in my speech. The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) underlined the fundamental importance of considering the climate emergency for our trade and geopolitical agenda, and she was absolutely right to do so.
The prediction by the Office for Budget Responsibility that exports will plummet this year, will drop again next year, and will manage only anaemic growth in the next three years underscores the importance of this debate and the 13 years of economic failure that have seen trade targets repeatedly missed, rampant inflation, taxes through the roof and huge numbers of businesses in real difficulty.
The OECD expects the UK to suffer the worst performance on economic growth this year of any G7 country. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West alluded to in his opening remarks, today’s global figures from the UN specialist trade body revealed that Britain has dropped out of the world’s top five for exports of goods and services. That underlines the fact that there is still no White Paper on trade; no clear plan to boost green trade; no industrial strategy to help address supply chain issues; and certainly no consultation on what Britain’s strategic trade goals should be, or what funding and other resources should be allocated to support a UK-wide trade strategy that delivers for all the nations and regions of the UK. That was a point that the hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) also made.
Our trade relationship with our nearest neighbours remains in serious need of improvement. It is clear that the much-promised trade deal with the United States will not happen while the current crop of Ministers are in post. Furthermore, the Indo-Pacific tilt, at least in trade terms, does not look like being the great solution to our economic woes that various Conservative Prime Ministers once promised. Progress on a trade deal with India seems to have been considerably hampered by tensions between the Home Office and the Department for Business and Trade, and Africa has largely been ignored.
The invasion of Ukraine has had considerable trade and geopolitical consequences. It is a reminder of the importance of our allies in eastern Europe; of working through NATO; of the continuing significance of global supply chains; and of maintaining close relationships with both America and the European Union, even while we look for other trade opportunities, too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West made the point that Europe remains our biggest, nearest market. It is home to crucial allies, and making Brexit work better ought to be a fundamental strategic priority for both trade and geopolitical reasons in the coming months. It is clear that the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, which the first of last year’s Prime Ministers negotiated with the European Union, is not working, as we were once promised that it would.
Three quarters of firms that trade with Europe and that are members of the British Chambers of Commerce say that the Government’s trade deal is not helping them increase sales or grow their businesses. The Institute of Directors has reported similar problems, too. As my hon. Friend the Member for Middlesbrough (Andy McDonald) alluded to in one of his early interventions, the rules of origin, which are expected to get tighter at the start of next year, pose real problems for the automotive industry. It would be good to hear from the Minister on how she and her colleagues intend to address those points.
Although Ministers may like to ignore these difficulties in general, Europe remains our biggest export market. Therefore, while progress on the Windsor framework is welcome, if we are to make Brexit work better, Ministers need a clear plan to make trading with the European Union less cumbersome and difficult, in particular for small and medium-sized businesses. A veterinary agreement with the European Union would be a good starting point, helping to reduce the considerable red tape and trade barriers that many of our agri-exporters now face. More direct Government assistance to support different business groups negotiate mutual recognition agreements of professional qualifications would be sensible, too. We also need to find new, flexible labour mobility arrangements for those making short-term work trips and for musicians and artists seeking short-term visas to tour within the EU. We also need to resolve the position on Britain’s data adequacy status, so that there is no threat to UK digital services companies’ ability to compete in the EU.
The failure to negotiate a trade deal with the US, as Conservative Members promised in their 2019 manifesto would be struck, is being compounded by the failure to grasp the scale of the potential risk to British business from the US Inflation Reduction Act, while the EU’s own response, published in February, could further divert green investment from the UK unless Ministers act. I hope we will hear from the Minister how her Department is responding to those threats.
I welcome the apparent progress made on the Indo-Pacific tilt and the Government’s decision to accede to the CPTPP, albeit we will need to examine the agreement in considerable detail. The Secretary of State’s comments on Monday suggest that she may well have made very significant concessions to secure that accession agreement. The Minister will know only too well that, while I am sure membership of the CTPPP will bring benefits in geopolitical terms, it is not clear that the trade benefits will be huge. The Government’s own predictions suggest it will add just 0.08% to our GDP, so it will not make up for the failure to deliver a trade deal with Europe or all the extra red tape, customs deals and higher costs that the poorly negotiated deal with the EU has delivered.
It is striking, too, that we have still not seen a trade deal signed with India, despite the promises that it would be done by Diwali last year. The concern on India is that other countries are racing ahead to get their business interests in front of Indian Ministers. With India set to be the world’s third largest economy by 2030, we need to step up significantly our trade efforts there.
Why, for example, is there not a greater effort to engage with Gujarat, where the fastest growth is taking place? We have a large Gujarati diaspora in the UK, with many highly successful businesses that already have links to Gujarat, yet we appear to be doing very little to capitalise on that knowledge and expertise. Other countries, notably France, have significantly stepped up their diplomatic and trade efforts with India in recent years. I have to say that there has been a notable failure of late by Ministers to back up negotiations to secure trade deals with the resources to help businesses to take advantage of all the claimed benefits of those deals.
Lastly, on Africa—a point that the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire brought to the attention of the House—the lack of trade and geopolitical attention that Ministers are giving to that remarkable continent is striking. The cuts in development assistance, in particular cutting back on key programmes of trade assistance such as the TradeMark Africa programme, have created the sense that Britain is less interested than it once was in Africa’s future.
As my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Ms Brown) reminds me, the International Monetary Fund says that in just eight years’ time, fully half of all the young people entering the labour market globally will be in Africa. The continent still faces huge challenges, notably on the climate crisis, poverty and conflict, but the establishment of the African continental free trade area is an indicator of increasing African self-confidence, and new partnerships to support mutual growth and development are surely in Britain’s long-term interest.
The Conservatives’ record on trade is one of failure and broken promises, a point my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol North West made explicitly in his excellent opening contribution. In 2012 the Conservative party pledged to reach £1 trillion of exports by 2020. Six Chancellors and four Prime Ministers later, the OBR is predicting that the target will be hit 15 years late. I am very much an optimist about our country—Britain will do better—but I gently suggest to the House that it will take a Labour Government to get Britain back on the road to the brighter and better future that the British people most definitely deserve.
I thank the hon. Member for Bristol North West (Darren Jones) for securing this important debate. I too was on the Select Committee with my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) and the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, so this feels like a Tuesday morning love-in all over again.
To continue that love-in, I must say that many points that the Select Committee chair made were valid, although unfortunately others were somewhat completely off the mark. As always, I will defer to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire; we played a good tag team on the Select Committee, so it is fantastic to have him here in the Chamber. I thank all colleagues from across the House for their valuable contributions and I will do my very best to reference all of the very important questions that they raised.
Goodness—I am no longer on the Christmas card list, so things are already going downhill. You have made it clear, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I do not have as much time to speak as I thought I had, so I will do my best to refer to all the contributions.
First, to the Chair of the Select Committee, you were such an optimist when I was on the Select Committee, but there has been nothing but negativity today. You touched on UK investment—
Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker.
We are one of the leading countries for start-up capital outside the United States. Most recently, we attracted £20 billion into technology, twice as much as France and Germany. The hon. Member for Bristol North West talked about our economy; the recent PwC report said that the UK is the fastest-growing G7 economy up to 2050, which means that our economic growth will outpace that of Germany, France and Italy combined. He talked about the OBR, which has revised its figures and is no longer forecasting our falling into a recession in 2023. I just wanted to ensure that he did not spend his weekend being utterly depressed, but instead looked at some of the stats out there that will perk him up.
I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to the debate, because it is important to understand the link between trade and geopolitics. As the hon. Gentleman mentioned, it is a fast-changing world out there and geopolitics is a challenge awaiting everyone, not just us here in the UK. It is only right that we ask ourselves what kind of country we want the UK to become. What part should we play in helping to shape the world of tomorrow? Should we be an outward-looking, truly global, free-trading nation that flies the flag for progress and stands up against the rise of authoritarianism and protectionism worldwide, or a country that battens down the hatches and shields itself from change?
I know what kind of nation the Prime Minister and I and the rest of this Government want the UK to be. We want to strengthen our country’s role as a global champion of freedom, democracy and the rule of law, driven by free trade and free enterprise. Considering the contributions we have heard, I think we all agree that trade is the most powerful force for progress we have at our disposal.
Only trade can create jobs, drive growth and deliver the long-term prosperity that communities across the UK and around the world need to flourish. Only trade has the power to lift millions more people out of poverty in developing nations, helping to build a more secure and prosperous future for us all. Only trade can drive forward co-operation in the battle against climate change, by building networks of green innovation worldwide.
Only trade can strengthen our critical supply chains, as discussed earlier, as we adapt to the energy security challenges unleashed by Putin’s barbaric illegal invasion of Ukraine. We have shown that by joining forces with our partners to cut the Kremlin’s oil revenues, removing tariffs on Ukrainian goods, signing a digital trade agreement with Kyiv and mobilising British businesses to play a leading role in rebuilding the Ukrainian economy—a task that we will drive forward with our partners when we host the second Ukrainian recovery conference in June.
The global challenges were covered in many speeches in this debate. That is why trade is forged at the heart of our economic security and defence policy as we adapt to the challenges of a competitive and multipolar world, just as we outlined in our refreshed integrated review, and why we are using our post-Brexit freedoms to position the United Kingdom at the centre of a network of free trade agreements that span the globe.
We are making it easier and cheaper for British firms in our constituencies, including smaller businesses, to trade and invest overseas by tackling tariffs and opening markets. We are helping them to unlock the fantastic potential of those deals through the work of our network of trained specialists, based here in the UK and worldwide, who provide the advice and guidance that firms need to do business overseas, from offering specialist market and sector intelligence to connecting British firms to export our investment opportunities on the ground, while flying the flag for the best of British business through the promotional work and other trade activities our teams are doing globally.
We have signed trade deals worth more than £850 billion with more than 70 nations so far, including some of the world’s most diverse and dynamic economies such as Japan and Australia. We are working at both state and federal level to strengthen our economic ties with the United States, our biggest bilateral trade partner, bringing down barriers to business through the memorandums of understanding we have agreed with North Carolina, South Carolina, Indiana and Oklahoma—the International Trade Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston), has just got off a flight from Oklahoma—with discussions ongoing with other states
We are also making progress in negotiating an FTA with India, although it is always about getting the right deal, not about rushing ahead. That FTA would boost our trade with the world’s biggest democracy by as much as £36 billion.
Let me shift to the Indo-Pacific, which was touched on by many Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire. A key plank of our policy is to strengthen Britain’s trade ties with markets across the Indo-Pacific as the global economic centre of gravity shifts eastward. China’s increasing assertiveness in the region is set to become one of the most significant geopolitical and geo-economic shifts over the next decade, so our response will define our relationship with the world that is emerging.
The hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) in particular mentioned China and Taiwan. In trade talks back in 2021, we agreed to deepen and broaden our trading relationship. In the last talks—held in Taiwan in November 2022, with the previous Trade Minister—the UK progressed market access ambitions in a range of sectors, including energy and offshore wind power, financial services, pharmaceuticals, agriculture, and, of course, food and drink. It gives me great pleasure to reassure the hon. Lady, the House and the good people of Taiwan that there is no change in the UK’s position, as stated at the G7 Foreign Ministers meeting a few days ago. I also note that President Macron has emphasised that position since making his initial comments. The UK remains resolutely against any unilateral change to the status quo, and we agree with our partners that Taiwan’s meaningful participation to international bodies should be possible. Of course, we are obviously aware of attempts to redefine the status quo, but we are fundamentally focused on ensuring that we de-escalate any tensions in the region.
There has been a lot of discussion about CPTPP, which is pivotal to the growth of our economy and will provide access to international markets for all the fantastic businesses in our constituencies. There has been so much doom and gloom in the debate, but it is worth remembering that we have access to markets in Europe and the CPTPP—the only country in the world to have that access. Our membership of the CPTPP was successfully secured by the Secretary of State just last month, and the deal is a game-changer for our country, placing the UK at the centre of a free trade zone of 500 million people, spanning Asia and the Americas, with a combined GDP of £9 trillion. We are the first European country to join the CPTPP, showing what we can achieve as an independent global trading nation. It also shows how we are valued internationally. There is a lot of doom and gloom about how the UK is branded and whether it is respected overseas, but I think this shows our value and what we have to offer.
CPTPP enables us to be a part of a major geopolitical scene. Of course, tilting towards the Indo-Pacific supports jobs and creates new export opportunities for businesses in every part of the United Kingdom. We have signed an additional agreement with Singapore, and a digital innovation partnership with 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, strengthening our growing network of prosperity across the region. Those deals are underpinned by our expanding commitment to security in the Pacific, led by the AUKUS defence and security pact that we signed with the US and Australia last year. Without secure trade routes and supply chains, commerce cannot flourish and nations cannot prosper.
There has been a lot of conversation about supply chains. The war in Ukraine has starkly exposed the vulnerability of global supply chains over the past year —particularly energy security—so we are pulling out the stops to identify alternative sources for the critical goods that our economy needs to flourish while boosting our energy independence at home. The integrated review included the critical minerals refresh, which I was pleased to put together. Just this morning, the critical minerals taskforce—a collaboration with industry—met for the first time. I take this opportunity to recognise the work of Katherine Bennett, the taskforce chair. This shows how we are working not only with industry, but internationally, to ensure that UK manufacturers have access to the critical minerals and goods that they need in their supply chains.
As we move towards cleaner, more affordable sources for power, Britain is once again leading the charge and we have a head-start on our global competitors. More than 40% of our energy came from renewable sources last year, and we are ramping up our investment in the sector, directing record sums into new projects, research and innovation. We know that the US Inflation Reduction Act is a significant intervention in the global race for green energy, and we are not attempting to enter any kind of distortive subsidy race with our greatest ally—as my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire said, we need to make sure that we always get good value for taxpayers’ money—but although that drive to net zero in the United States should be welcomed, it is, of course, incredibly disruptive. One cannot throw a stone into the water and not expect any ripples, and IRA is a massive stone that has caused ripples worldwide, particularly in Europe. It is incredibly important that we stick to our net zero ambitions and ensure that we have resilience in our supply chains.
We are trying to do everything that we can to ensure that businesses in the UK have a competitive advantage while leveraging billions more in private capital to drive growth—and not just in green energy. We want to grow our nuclear energy capacity, too, through the development of small modular reactors, while investing in our key growth industries—from advanced manufacturing to life sciences and artificial intelligence—forging a British economy that is fit to face the challenges of a fast-changing world. [Interruption.] I am being rushed along, so I will briefly respond to some of the points raised by hon. Members.
My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire talked about the Office for Investment. We now have a joint Department—BEIS and DIT have become the Department for Business and Trade—with far more focus. An event in October will focus on global investment into the UK. We are focusing our resources and ensuring that we are reaching out.
The hon. Member for Bath spoke about CPTPP and Taiwan. It is not for us to talk about the accession of other countries, but is it not fantastic that we are at the table to ensure that our voices are heard?
There was also conversation about Liverpool and Mexico—[Interruption.] I am going as fast as I can, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Dan Carden) for his speech, which was positive about the work that we are doing in Mexico. He talked about the education strategy and the desire to promote exports, especially in education. I can confirm that we are most definitely doing that. If that work continues to be as positive as it is, I am sure that we would work with him to ensure that it is progressed.
The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) spoke about Kashmir. Those issues are fundamentally for the Foreign Office. These conversations often take place behind closed doors, but I do not doubt that her comments are on the record and will be reflected in other Departments, as necessary.
With a new chapter in global history being opened, we must have the courage to stand up for our convictions that only free trade and open markets hold the key to prosperity. It is clear that we are living in dangerous times. Autocracies are emboldened and behaving in a way that many of us have not seen in our lifetimes. The UK stands at the crossroads of the geopolitical stand-off between the international rules-based system as we know it and the system that autocratic leaders would like it to become. Trade and investment are at the very heart of that crossroads. Securing UK prosperity while protecting our way of life must be at the core of our trading strategy. We must work with our partners and allies to forge a freer, fairer future for the global economy, standing up to protectionism and economic coercion wherever we find it, delivering for people across the UK by growing British exports until we achieve our ambition of trading £1 trillion-worth of goods and services by 2030—we have a few years to go before we hit that target —and making our economy the undisputed top investment destination in Europe, so that millions of people across the UK and around the world can be set free to realise their economic potential and enjoy the benefits that only free, fair and sustainable trade and investment can bring.
I do not want to cause you any more upset, Madam Deputy Speaker, so I will finish by saying that I was at the Dispatch Box 30 days ago on the first day of Ramadan. Tonight we may see a full moon and tomorrow may be Eid, so I wish you and the House—especially the staff in the Tea Room—Eid Mubarak. I wish in particular for a full moon tonight so that I and my two brothers, Nasim and Rasalat, who are watching, can celebrate Eid tomorrow.
I thank Members for their interventions, contributions and—dare I say—compliments, for which I was very grateful. I think we all agree that the world has changed. The question is: what next for Britain? From empire, to Europe, to what? A new chapter in our long history. Clearly, there is disagreement on both sides of the House about the state of the UK economy, but the Labour party knows that the data shows 13 years of economic decline, and that that must change. That change will come, we hope, with a new Labour Government.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered international trade and geopolitics.