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Customs Union: Free Trade Agreements

Volume 635: debated on Thursday 1 February 2018

8. What assessment he has made of the effect of remaining in the EU customs union on the ability of the UK to seek free trade agreements with non-EU countries. (903671)

14. What assessment he has made of the effect of remaining in the EU customs union on the ability of the UK to seek free trade agreements with non-EU countries. (903678)

Remaining in the customs union would prevent the UK from striking new free trade deals and setting new tariffs on goods from countries outside the EU. By leaving the customs union and building a new customs arrangement with the EU, we will be able to forge new trade arrangements with our partners around the world while ensuring that trade in goods between the UK and the EU is as frictionless as possible.

One of the most exciting opportunities that will become available when we leave the customs union is that of establishing a free port at Teesport, as the Secretary of State and the Minister saw for themselves last week. Will the Minister confirm that the Government will give serious consideration to this excellent idea, which will put rocket boosters under my local economy?

I thank my hon. Friend and the Mayor of Tees Valley for welcoming the Secretary of State and me to Teesport last Friday. My hon. Friend has been an indefatigable voice for his constituents since his election to Parliament last year. It was a pleasure to meet some of the 100 business representatives who were present when the Secretary of State made his speech last Friday. Teesport is an opportunity for global Britain, and a gateway to the world—an example of our forward-thinking, independent trade policy. When we leave the EU customs union, we will have the opportunity to create our own trading policy to benefit Teesport and other areas. I sincerely hope that the free port proposal on the table will be one of the options explored.

As my hon. Friend will know well, in Harrow, we have a thriving Indian diaspora, whose members are desperate to encourage trade between the UK and India. Will she ensure that, during the negotiations, they will not be held back from improving trade between India and the UK by artificial trade barriers between those countries?

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for his lifelong advocacy for the British Asian community, not least in the 1990s when he encouraged my mother to stand as a local councillor—you could say, Mr Speaker, that my hon. Friend is to blame for my being here today.

Leaving the EU offers us the opportunity to forge a new role for ourselves in the world. The Prime Minister’s first bilateral visit outside Europe was to India, which is very telling. It was encouraging that the Indian Finance Minister visited the UK for the year of culture launch in February last year. I am optimistic about the opportunities that leaving the customs union and the EU presents for UK-India relations.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is launching a new customs declaration service, which is due to go live in January 2019. Has it been designed to deal with the fourfold increase in customs declarations that will be required post Brexit?

The customs infrastructure is going through the upgrade that the hon. Gentleman mentions, and that is on track and on target. I am looking forward to the opportunity to build on our customs regimes so that we have a customs and excise framework that sets the standard for the world.