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Brexit Opportunities Unit

Volume 814: debated on Monday 19 July 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what salary attaches to the new post of Director of the Brexit Opportunities Unit at the Cabinet Office.

My Lords, the Cabinet Office has advertised the post of director of the Brexit opportunities unit with a salary range of £93,000 to £120,000. That is within the Cabinet Office’s pay scale of £93,000 to £162,500 for a director-level appointment and appropriate for the calibre of candidate that the role requires. The director of the unit will lead an ambitious programme of reform and address many of the most important questions facing the UK.

My Lords, I am thinking of applying for this job because it is such an exciting opportunity. I would be prepared to do it for nothing; I was wondering what the Minister might think of my application. May I give him my pitch for the job? The biggest opportunity for the director of the Brexit opportunities unit is the opportunity to reapply to join the single market and the customs union so that we can eliminate trade barriers with the European Union, eliminate the need for any trade barriers north-south or east-west in respect of Northern Ireland and extend once again to the British people the great opportunity to be able to travel, study, work, settle, live and form relationships across the whole of their continent and not be locked up in Boris Johnson’s Brexit Britain. Does the Minister find that an exciting prospectus?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his job application. Of course, it is open to him to apply if he wishes, although it will not be for me to judge whether he meets all the criteria for the job. It will not surprise him to know that I disagree with his assessment of where we stand as a country. Brexit will be hugely in the interests of everybody in this country as we take forward the exciting opportunities to reform our rules, take back control of our legislation and run our country as we wish.

My Lords, quite in contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I see one of the great opportunities of Brexit as the opportunity to diversify our trade away from its artificial and risky dependence on the European Union. In that light, can my noble friend the Minister say what plans the Government have to sponsor and support new and existing industry-led export promotion agencies, which can help in hunting down sales around the world?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right to set out the trade opportunities now available to this country after leaving the EU. I and many of my Cabinet colleagues work closely with industry organisations of all kinds to help them in their export plans, understand any difficulties that they face and resolve those difficulties. We continue to do that expeditiously.

My Lords, I urge the Minister to look favourably on the application of my noble friend Lord Adonis. In contrast to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, the Prime Minister claimed that his deal—the TCA—would allow our companies and exporters to do even more business with our European friends. Will it be part of the job of the Brexit opportunities director to achieve increased trade with our nearest and biggest market, particularly in the light of the disruption and loss of trade that we have seen over recent months?

My Lords, we support expanded trade of all kinds wherever it is to be found. We are confident that British industry will be able to deliver on that. The figures for exports so far this year show that exports to the EU are back to normal—that is, at 2019 levels—which is what we expected. The opportunities for this country as a trading country are very great, and I am sure that it will be part of the role of this individual to get behind them.

My Lords, will the Minister ensure that central government works as a single unit over a common set of objectives? Somewhat in the same vein as the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, will he also ensure, building on a strategy of free trade and tariff-free access to our markets from emerging and frontier markets, maximum commercial and political buy-in from those Governments to reinforce the global Britain vision? If he agrees, what does he have in mind to achieve this?

My Lords, as one would expect, the Government have a single voice on these questions. We are all focused on the ability to deliver the opportunities of Brexit. It is my job to make sure that many of those things happen with this new director when we appoint him or her. On trade, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade is focused on the issues that the noble Viscount mentioned. In particular, we have applied to join the CPTPP; we have published our prospectus for that and look forward to continuing those negotiations this year.

One of the problems that the Minister has is that he cannot even guarantee free trade within the United Kingdom at the moment. However, let us be positive. In referring to his new unit, the Minister said that he is fully behind making things happen and is prepared to look at government procurement. I welcome that. He will know that Keir Starmer recently launched a “Buy British” campaign, which included giving more public contracts to British companies and requiring public bodies to report how much they buy from British companies. To ensure that his new unit has an impact and is not all hype, will the Minister back our proposals for a “Buy British” campaign?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is of course right to underline the importance of procurement reform for our objectives. We have made clear that we wish to take forward a procurement Bill, which will radically simplify the arrangements that we have inherited from the European Union. We are bound by the Agreement on Government Procurement at the WTO as well as any procurement arrangements in our free trade agreements; our procurement policies have to fit within all those agreements.

My Lords, it is surprising that the Government need not just a new director but a whole unit paid for and tasked with searching for Brexit opportunities. For the Minister and his like-minded colleagues, surely these opportunities are self-evident. Can he therefore list those Brexit opportunities for me now—specifically, not with some grandiose global Britain rhetoric—and say whether they are sufficient to outweigh the very specific Brexit losses, such as the difficulty of working in the EU, the hassle in exporting and importing, and the shortage of workers in a range of sectors?

My Lords, I am very happy to do so. For example, we have already brought in a new points-based immigration system. We have also brought in new arrangements to support our farmers, replacing the common agricultural policy. We are beginning to agree free trade agreements with a range of countries around the world. We have brought in a new global human rights sanctions regime, which has been used extensively. In the Queen’s Speech, we set out future opportunities, including the Subsidy Control Bill, a procurement Bill, the free ports programmes, the Professional Qualifications Bill and a planning Bill. The Chancellor has also set out our road map for future financial services; I could go on. There is a long list of opportunities that we will be able to take advantage of.

My Lords, the DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson claimed this morning on “Good Morning Ulster” that the Northern Ireland Assembly not having any role whatsoever in the operation of the protocol undermined the very standing of devolved institutions in Northern Ireland. What plans do the Government have to give Northern Ireland elected representatives meaningful engagement in and scrutiny of decision-making about the evolution and implementation of the protocol and the trade and co-operation agreement as they impinge on areas of devolved competence?

My Lords, the day-to-day arrangements in the protocol for the democratic scrutiny of laws in Northern Ireland are democratically anomalous. We have said that before and it is why we had to negotiate the consent arrangements in the Northern Ireland protocol to ensure democratic support, or not, for these proposals. We will be setting out our approach to the Northern Ireland protocol more generally later this week.

While the benefits of Brexit remain so elusive, should we not instead be tackling the serious downsides of the EU trade deal, such as the huge hit to our £111 billion creative arts sector? British performers now face major obstacles to touring in Europe, including prohibitive costs and mountains of red tape. Meanwhile, musicians from Tonga and other third countries can tour freely in the EU. Since their negotiators were so much more successful than ours, should not this new director be recruited from Tonga?

My Lords, we stand fully behind our great creative industries and support them in touring around the European Union. As is well known, we have launched a campaign in the small minority of member states that do not allow relatively easy touring. We are actively lobbying the member states concerned and will continue to do so, in the hope that they change their arrangements to make them as liberal as ours.