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Leaving the EU: Business Consultation

Volume 626: debated on Tuesday 27 June 2017

Since the referendum, I have held discussions with businesses, workers and local leaders across the UK, and investors all around the world. These will continue over the coming months, including my weekly meetings with the directors general of the five main business organisations. The Government are creating a new EU exit business advisory group to ensure that business is not only heard but is influential throughout the negotiations.

My particular interest is in the UK’s life science sector, which is worth some £30 billion to the economy and involves nearly half a million jobs, many of which are in my constituency of Bury St Edmunds. Will the Secretary of State tell me how he will ensure that there is continued support to this vital leading research and science sector as we leave the EU?

I will indeed. My hon. Friend is a great champion of the sector. In our negotiations, we want to ensure that we can continue these successful collaborations, as well as making further investment in the future of research through our industrial strategy. The House may be interested to know that I can announce today that the Government’s commitment to underwrite the UK’s fair share for the Joint European Torus costs—the leading nuclear fusion facility in Oxfordshire, supporting 1,300 jobs—will be made. The facility is funded through a contract between the European Commission and the UK Atomic Energy Authority. In making this commitment, the Government hope to provide the certainty and reassurance needed for a mutually beneficial extension of the contract.

All the five business organisations to which the Secretary of State refers have come out against the Prime Minister’s extreme and damaging Brexit. What is he personally doing to ensure that the Prime Minister not only hears what they are saying, but listens to it?

The right hon. Gentleman will know that the five business organisations have put forward a sensible set of principles to govern the transition and the shape of a final agreement. Those suggestions seem very sensible. Part of the point of engaging with business, as I do rigorously and frequently, is to ensure that that voice is heard.

One of the important principles that those business organisations have stressed is the essential nature of having contractual and legal certainty for those who are entering into legal obligations so that they know that that will continue to be enforceable once we leave the EU. Will the Secretary of State therefore ensure that particular regard is had to the need for transition periods to be based on the reality of business practice, rather than on arbitrary considerations?

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. If he has the continued privilege to chair the Select Committee on Justice, I am sure that it will provide some help in this.

Many businesses are particularly concerned about additional checks on trade imports and exports if we leave the customs union. Can the Secretary of State give businesses any reassurance at all that there will not be additional checks if and when we leave the customs union?

I have always been clear, as have the Government, that we want not only no tariffs, but no bureaucratic impediments of the type described by the hon. Lady. That is one of the objectives set out by the business organisations. As she knows, the negotiations have just started, but we are clear that that is our objective.

Will my right hon. Friend be asking businesses to list the most egregious and restrictive EU directives that may be removed once we leave in order to make British business more competitive and efficient?

I am sure that my hon. Friend will be an assiduous contributor to the scrutiny of the repeal Bill. The approach is to transfer into UK law that which was part of EU law precisely so that this House can scrutinise and consider what should be continued.

The Government said yesterday that EU citizens will be able to apply for what they called “settled status”, so that they can continue to live and work in the UK. Application processes can be time-consuming, not to mention complicated, expensive and off-putting, especially when this Government are involved. How can the Secretary of State guarantee that all EU nationals working in the UK will be allowed to stay not just in theory but in practice, to the benefit of the many businesses that rely on EU workers?

I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to his place. In fact, I think that Labour’s whole Front-Bench team has been reappointed. It is nice to see loyalty rewarded. The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, and I thought that he would welcome the Prime Minister’s very positive statement. It is important that the process is implemented with no bureaucracy so that people can apply with confidence.