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Post Brexit: Economic and Political Opportunities

Volume 811: debated on Thursday 25 March 2021


Asked by

To ask the Minister of State at the Cabinet Office (Lord Frost) what evidence-based analysis Her Majesty’s Government are using to oversee the cross-government work on maximising the economic and political opportunities flowing from the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union.

My Lords, the UK’s future economic and political opportunities are maximised by the ability we now have to set laws which suit this country’s needs, rather than the lowest common denominator of EU member states. That is true when we review existing legislation and when we set new legislative frameworks for the industries of the future. In doing so, we will draw on economic and analytical support from within government departments and beyond them.

My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on his appointment to the Cabinet. I am surprised that there is no mention of the specific work of anybody. I cite the economic work of Crowley, Exton and Han from Cambridge University, and hope that he will look at it. I want to ask about political opportunities. Does he agree that for 2021, two large opportunities for the independent UK are the G7 and COP 26? Does he further agree that, to maximise these opportunities, it will be more effective to co-operate with the EU as an entity than via bilateral relations with member states?

My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord that we have great opportunities on the world stage after Brexit. This year the G7 summit and COP 26 meeting are among the most important. Of course, we seek to co-operate with the EU and its member states in whichever way is most appropriate.

My Lords, I, too, warmly welcome the Minister to his first outing at Minister of State’s Questions. There are 24 committees and groups set up under the trade and co-operation agreements. They are, in effect, the instruments and controls in its cockpit, but the Government have said that there will be no meetings of these bodies until the end of the ratification period, which is now considerably extended, so the flight deck is empty. Given that the TCA is fully operational, what plans do the Government have to at least get meetings in the diary?

My Lords, I have, of course, read the full and thoughtful report produced by the noble Earl’s committee, which was published on Monday, on this question and many others. We think that it is right to establish the Government’s arrangements fully when the treaty is fully in force and ratified on both sides, which we hope will be very soon.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, should concentrate on outcomes, not process, and that he need look no further than the terrific work being done by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade, with 66 trade deals already done and more still to come as evidence of how the Government are delivering opportunities for the UK now that we are out of the EU?

I very much agree with the thrust of my noble friend’s question. More than 60 trade treaties were rolled over last year, and a number of others are now under negotiation with the United States, Australia, New Zealand and so on, and we have an aspiration to join the CPTPP. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Trade is doing an excellent job in this area, and I am sure she will continue to do so.

My Lords, the importance of international access for service industries and the integration of UK and EU services is well evidenced. Some 40% of services trade in the UK’s £116 billion creative sector flows to the EU, and the integrated review reminds us that these services enhance the UK’s soft power and its balance of trade. Will the Minister ensure that this evidence is taken into account in identifying future opportunities for the UK? If the existing evidence is not enough, can he tell us what further evidence is required to convince the Government to prioritise our world-leading, revenue-generating creative industries in future trade negotiations?

My Lords, the UK is very much a services-based economy and the success of our services industries in all areas is essential for our future prosperity. We are well aware of the particular issues faced by cultural workers and we put forward solutions in the TCA negotiations to try to deal with them but, unfortunately, that was not possible. We are now working energetically with our European friends bilaterally to see whether we can reduce the most difficult barriers and will continue to do so.

My Lords, as a Minister and as First Minister of Scotland, I was regularly engaged in developing negotiating positions and in other debates on the UK’s position in discussions with the European Union. What arrangements has the Minister put in place to engage with the devolved Governments as part of these new arrangements with the European Union? Specifically, how will he engage with civic society and business in Scotland to ensure that their views are being heard?

My Lords, we engaged very closely with the devolved Administrations last year during the TCA negotiations and in the implementation of the withdrawal agreement. At the moment, we are considering the best way of engaging the devolved Administrations most effectively in the new governance arrangements that have been set up, and I expect we will want further discussions on that matter before too long.

My Lords, when I asked the Minister last week about the absence of the EU/UK agreement impact assessment, he told me:

“The economic situation last year, the impact of the pandemic and the huge uncertainties made it very difficult to conduct an analysis.”—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 447.]

However, that was not the case for the UK/Japan agreement he referred to, on which a 107-page assessment was published at the end of October. The Minister just told the House that the Government are drawing on economic and analytical support within government. Will the British Parliament be able to see any of it?

My Lords, the Government routinely publish much information and analysis of this country’s economic prospects. They most recently did so around the Budget earlier this month. Many other bodies, such as the OBR and the ONS do likewise. There is a good deal of comment on the prospects for this country after Brexit, economically and otherwise, and we are not convinced that further publications at this point would add to this very rich debate.

Can my noble friend enlighten the House on the progress he is making with the export of shellfish from the UK to the EU? Does he accept that the EU has acted in bad faith in its strict adherence to the rules? Is he contemplating that we might retaliate in kind?

My Lords, we obviously regret the situation that has arisen with the difficulties in exporting shellfish to the European Union after 1 January. Clearly, nothing changed in the safety of British shellfish or British waters at midnight on 31 December. We are continuing to work with the Commission and member states to see whether we can resolve this situation.

My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, I want to return to an issue we touched on last week when the Minister appeared to dismiss concerns about the January fall in exports, saying:

“A unique combination of facts has made it inevitable”.—[Official Report, 18/3/21; col. 445.]

The Food and Drink Federation does not share his complacency, having seen its members’ exports to the EU collapse by 75% in the past year but by only 11% to the rest of the world. It is clear that the Brexit negotiations, which the Minister was part of, had a hugely significant impact, particularly on small businesses, so I have two questions for him. First, if the fall really was inevitable, why did he not tell businesses beforehand? Secondly, will he urgently convene a meeting, not- withstanding his earlier comments, of the partnership council and the special trade committees to try to save British exports?

My Lords, the economic situation is clearly hugely influenced by many factors including stock building, the implementation of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement and the effects of the pandemic, which has dramatically affected markets in Europe, to which many of our smaller companies and food companies export. We are working very closely with all those companies to deal with the difficulties they face, and we will continue to do so in support of our great food and drink industry.

My Lords, I echo the approach of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, to this question. The first set of concrete numbers are now available and starting to speak for themselves. What is the reaction to Santander UK’s recent barometer survey published this week showing that 16% of the businesses surveyed—equating to 1,000 businesses—say that European supply chains are no longer viable and 23% say that the increase in the costs of bureaucracy currently prohibits them trading with existing UK markets? Then there is this morning’s news that Santander UK is closing 111 UK branches with the loss of 5,000 jobs. What plans do the Government have to fix these issues?

My Lords, the ongoing pandemic is clearly having a significant effect on the economic situation in Europe and in the UK. That cannot be removed from the economic situation we are trying to consider. We are working very closely with goods exporters, services exporters and all companies to enable them to deal with the new processes they face to ensure that they can continue to prosper after Brexit.