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Customs Union: Automotive Sector

Volume 635: debated on Thursday 1 February 2018

11. What recent assessment the Government have made of the effect of the UK leaving the EU customs union on the automotive sector. (903675)

The Government have been conducting a broad overall programme of work on EU exit issues and will continue to do so. That means that all decisions, including those relating to the customs union and the automotive sector, are supported by a range of analytical work. We want our deep and special partnership with the EU to include the automotive industry. We want to ensure that trade is as free and frictionless as possible, with minimum disruption to the industry. The UK remains the second-largest market for cars in Europe, so it is in both our interests to continue the partnership between our industries. I know that the Vauxhall car plant in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency is extremely important, and I look forward to visiting it soon.

As the Minister knows, the Vauxhall plant in my constituency is fighting for its survival. Vauxhall’s parent company, PSA, has said that it is not prepared to make any long-term investment decisions until there is clarity about the final trading arrangements, and, having heard what Ministers have said this morning, I am not sure we will get that any time soon. Can the Minister at least guarantee that the trading arrangements for the automotive sector will be no less favourable than they are now?

The Government understand that Vauxhall’s decision was a commercial one, taken as a result of challenging European market conditions. Vauxhall has made it clear that the decision was made to safeguard the competitiveness of the plant. The Government maintain close ongoing dialogue with Vauxhall and its parent group, PSA, as they make their joint plans for the future, including potential investments. Ministers have met senior management representatives of PSA and Vauxhall regularly throughout the process, and will continue to do so.

I hope and expect that as we progress through our negotiations, agree on an implementation period and then move on to our economic partnership, the hon. Gentleman will find that an accelerating degree of certainty emerges.

The port of Immingham in my constituency is vital to the automotive sector. Further to the answer given by the Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, the hon. Member for Fareham (Suella Fernandes), about Teesport and free ports, may I ask whether the Minister is prepared to meet me to discuss the possibility of Immingham’s becoming a free port post Brexit?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that suggestion. Of course I will meet him and other colleagues to discuss it, but I should add that as this conversation has proceeded, certain misgivings have been expressed about free ports. We must ensure that any free port proposal is capable of giving the country the security that it needs.