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Bilateral Trade Deals

Volume 616: debated on Thursday 3 November 2016

2. What discussions he has had with his international counterparts on the development of bilateral trade deals between the UK and other countries. (907064)

While we remain members of the European Union, discussions we have are limited by our considerations of the common commercial policy and our duties of sincere co-operation. We cannot negotiate and conclude trade agreements while we are a member of the European Union, but we can have discussions on our future trading relationships. The UK will continue to be a champion for free trade, and back the EU’s current and ongoing negotiations.

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that the decision to leave the European Union presents this country with an enormous opportunity to re-engage with our Commonwealth friends and to forge proper trading links with them once more?

Yes, we are keen to seize all the opportunities that leaving the EU presents, and so, too, are many of our international partners, who recognise the attractiveness of doing business with the UK. I will be accompanying the Prime Minister on a trip next week to India to take forward some of those opportunities.

Does the Secretary of State see any irony or contradiction in his development of these new free trade and investment agreements, which involve the harmonisation of rules and standards with other countries—even obedience to supranational commercial courts—and the referendum instruction from the British people that we should leave membership of the largest free-trade agreement in the world so that we can set our own rules and take back our sovereignty?

No, because the European Union is not simply a trading organisation. Were it simply a trading, and not a political, organisation, the referendum result may have been different. One of the major problems with the European Union, and one of the reasons why the public voted to leave, was that there is such a strong supranational imposition on the United Kingdom.

As we are leaving the EU, and everybody knows it, why do we not just get on and start negotiating trade deals? After all, the EU can hardly punish us in the future.

It is not a question of punishment; it is a question of what we have signed up to and our duty to fulfil the obligations we have entered freely into.

Has the UK managed to get the World Trade Organisation’s 160-plus members to agree that we will be a continuing member, rather than a new member, of the WTO? If the UK is not able to have negotiations just now, how will it get that agreement?

We are a founding and full member of the WTO—there is no dispute about that. I think what the hon. Lady is referring to are the trading schedules under which we operate under the WTO, and, obviously, we will be in full discussions on those.

As my right hon. Friend has already said, to do a bilateral trade deal we need to be out of the European Union. Does he therefore deplore, as I do, the High Court’s decision this morning to rule against the Government and say that the will of the people in the EU referendum on 23 June is still subject to parliamentary approval?

The Government are disappointed by the Court’s judgment. The country voted to leave the European Union in a referendum approved by Act of Parliament. The Government are determined to respect the result of the referendum. This judgment raises important and complex matters of law, and it is right that we consider it carefully before deciding how to proceed.

Will the Government respect the ruling of the Court in this matter, and also respect Parliament? If they want to get on with these trade deals, should they not accept that Parliament should have its say, as the Court has ruled?

I have nothing to add, other than to reiterate that it is right that the Government will consider carefully before deciding how to proceed following the judgment.