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Brexit: Logistics Industry

Volume 791: debated on Tuesday 8 May 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have asked any organisations in the logistics industry to sign confidentiality agreements in respect of negotiations concerning the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.

My Lords, the Department for Exiting the European Union is responsible for overseeing the negotiations to leave. We continue to engage regularly with companies across the economy to inform our negotiating position and prepare for our departure from the EU. The department has not signed any non-disclosure agreements in respect of negotiations.

I thank the Minister for that reply. Since he is close to the logistics industry, does he agree that the line favoured by the Prime Minister has the potential to solve the looming crisis in the supply chain industry, or does he agree with the Foreign Secretary, who has described the Prime Minister’s proposals as “bonkers”?

If the noble Lord is referring to customs solutions, there are, of course, two models on the table. I am sure noble Lords are very familiar with the issue, but there is the streamlined model and the alternative model, a new customs partnership. Both have issues and drawbacks as well as opportunities and the Government are examining both models closely. When we have reached the most appropriate solution that is best for the UK, we will announce it.

My Lords, 73 years ago today was Victory in Europe Day, when Britain, Russia and America saved Europe from a new dark age. I ask the Minister: when we leave Europe will we have the mechanisms in place to ensure the correct defence and security arrangements to look after the security and safety of this continent and this country?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. As the Prime Minister said in her Munich speech, our offers for the guarantees of security in Europe are unconditional and we look forward to a close and productive security, foreign affairs and defence partnership with our EU partners.

My Lords, 9 May is Victory Day, which will be attended by all those who were part of winning the Second World War. Will a Minister be present at this memorial?

My Lords, returning to supply chains and logistics, currently it is estimated that a non-EU vehicle entering one of our ports takes 45 minutes to get through customs and all the procedures, whereas for EU vehicles it is a few seconds. The FTA—Freight Transport Association—has said that an extra two minutes means 17 miles more of queue. What is the Government’s estimate of the extra time that it will take a vehicle to cross the border post Brexit?

As the noble Lord is aware, we are negotiating to have as frictionless customs arrangements as possible. We do not want any delays and we want whatever delays there might be kept to a minimum. That is the purpose of the discussions we are having and of the agreement we hope to come to.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that when freight from Dublin goes across the UK to the continent, it takes approximately 10 hours? If that same freight had to go around the UK to Europe, it would take 40 hours. What are the Government doing to prevent the Irish situation affecting the frictionless border?

The border between the UK and Ireland will be a customs border in the future. Of course, we want to make that border as frictionless as possible, as we do the other borders. That is the purpose of the discussions.

My Lords, perhaps I can come to the assistance of the Liberal Democrats, who seem to be at sixes and sevens over whether or not we are going to leave the European Union. I am certain that we will not leave the European Union. Last week we had a Question on the dangers of gambling, particularly internet gambling, but I am prepared to make a wager with the Minister of at least £10—I am a generous Scotsman—that by the date designated for exiting we will not be leaving the European Union. Will the Minister take that bet?

I am not sure whether the rules of the House permit gambling exchanges across the Floor. I am probably better off not answering that question in case I get into trouble with the House authorities. It is very good of the noble Lord to come to the rescue of the Liberal Democrats on behalf of the Labour Party, whose position seems equally confused.

My Lords, the Liberal Democrats are quite clear that we do not want to leave the European Union. I ask the Minister: what mechanisms do the Government use to engage with members of the logistics industry, which has some 40 different representative organisations and groups? Have the Government now engaged with the Port of Dover, which recently said that not one Minister had been to visit it despite the fact that it is predicted to be at the eye of the storm when—or if—we leave?

I assure the noble Baroness that we have had many meetings with the Port of Dover. We continue to engage extensively, at both ministerial and official level. Of course, it is one of 275 ports and airports—albeit one of the largest—that we need to engage in discussions with to make sure that we put in place the logistical arrangements to make the border as frictionless as possible.

My Lords, in an earlier answer the Minister identified two potential solutions to the customs issue. Can he please tell the House when he expects the Government to solve that problem and decide which of them they will choose, if either, and how?

The “how” is that we will look in detail, using our excellent teams of officials, at all the available options. We will announce in due course what the best solution is for the United Kingdom and then, of course, we will have to discuss those matters with our European partners.

My Lords, is it not worth remembering that most digital traffic does not go through ports or customs anyway so the entire customs union debate, which is quite separate, is completely irrelevant to this question of digital and knowledge product trade. What are relevant are all the regulations and licences, which govern the trade in digital services throughout the European Union, and where—even after 40 years of membership—we have not been very successful in making much progress. Is the real concern not a global one? Are not the real markets where growth is coming in the next 10 years predominantly—90%—outside the European Union, and should we not think in rather wider terms that this petty issue of digital services in Europe?

My Lords, my noble friend, with his long experience of these matters, makes an extremely good point. Digital products can of course cross the European frontier very easily and cross worldwide frontiers extremely easily. The issue of trying to unify regulations is on a worldwide basis and the EU is a shrinking market in the world.