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International Business Community

Volume 635: debated on Thursday 1 February 2018

6. What steps he is taking to ensure the Government engage with the international business community during negotiations for the UK to leave the EU. (903668)

Ministers from across the Government have carried out extensive engagement on EU exit, in both the UK and the EU, with businesses and industry bodies from all sectors of the economy. Those include international businesses with a footprint in the UK and British businesses with interests in the EU. The Prime Minister chairs a quarterly business advisory council to hear directly from senior business leaders on the key issues across EU exit and the wider economy.

Coming from Coventry, which is the home of the UK motor industry, I have been delighted by the industry’s resurgence in recent years. Last year, however, it did see a fall in output of 3%, which was attributed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders to the need for clarity on Brexit transition. Given the importance of car manufacturing and its supply chain to the west midlands economy, what reassurance has the Minister been able to give the industry about the future relationship with our European partners?

I, too, am delighted about the resurgence to which my hon. Friend refers. It is precisely because of such requests and the result of such engagement with businesses that the Government’s proposals for an implementation period—promising the clarity needed to plan ahead—have been welcomed by various sectors of our economy. We and the EU want to agree the detail of the implementation by the end of March, making good as swiftly as possible on our promise of certainty. We are seeking a bold and ambitious economic partnership with the EU, with the greatest possible tariff and barrier-free trade arrangement with our European neighbours.

Businesses that I speak to in the north-east tell me of international investments that have been put on hold while companies try to work out what kind of Brexit this Government are actually going for. They do not want to make that public, so will the Minister tell me how she is engaging with international business to assess the impact of that on our economy, and indeed—because I forget what the story is today—whether such an assessment is going on?

I hope the hon. Lady listened to the Secretary of State’s very detailed presentation and speech on Friday in which he set out the terms of an implementation period and addressed exactly the issues that she raises now. The implementation period will provide a bridge and a platform for businesses to enable them to plan for the future, to give them the time that they need, and to enable them to plan on that basis for a prosperous future outside.

The services sector is of course the largest part of the British economy, and while the single market in services may not be complete, it is the deepest market in services anywhere on the globe. Will the Minister confirm that it is our intention that the full services sector will be included in our deep and special partnership?

My hon. Friend brings to the House her experience of the European Parliament, which we all value. As 80% of the UK economy is services-based, it is absolutely vital that we incorporate provisions relating to services in any new arrangement with the EU.

I was astonished to read in yesterday’s National Audit Office report on the equipment plan that the Ministry of Defence’s inability to hedge effectively against sterling fluctuations could cost up to £5 billion. Will the Minister advise us what DExEU is doing to support other Departments that are struggling with Brexit as they engage with the international community?

As I have said, there is considerable engagement with the international business community. The Prime Minister herself chairs a business advisory council to hear directly from senior business leaders on key issues. On cross-departmental engagement, there is considerable work and engagement across all Whitehall Departments to prepare for all outcomes from these negotiations.