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Leaving the EU

Volume 636: debated on Tuesday 27 February 2018

6. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on the economy of the UK leaving the single market and the customs union. (904033)

The Government are undertaking a wide-ranging set of analyses of the impact of our departure from the European Union. This is changing through time as we develop our approach and we move to a bold and comprehensive agreement with our EU partners.

The Chancellor knew in 2016 that the majority of people would prefer a soft Brexit to a hard Brexit. I am referring to remainers, plus people such as the Foreign Secretary, who said he favoured a single market and would vote for it. Now that the Chancellor knows that a hard Brexit will cost us £45 billion in lost tax receipts, will he at least acknowledge that people such as me on both sides of the Chamber who support our remaining in both the customs union and the single market do so in the name of prosperity and of upholding democracy?

The Government have made their position very clear: we are leaving the European Union, and that means we are leaving the customs union and the single market. However, we are determined to negotiate a deal under which our trade with the EU27 is as frictionless as possible and we are able, as a globally facing nation, to secure free trade agreements with other countries around the world.

Will the Minister confirm that the Conservative Government are and will continue to be the voice of British business, and that securing a strong economic future will be at the heart of the Brexit negotiations?

I thank my right hon. Friend very much indeed for that question. I can of course confirm that we remain entirely committed to the strength of our economy and to supporting businesses up and down the country, not least in our negotiations with the European Union. I have some responsibility for the customs part of the negotiations, and we are committed to making sure that goods and services move as frictionlessly as possible across the boundaries with the EU27 following our departure.

Mr Speaker,

“I believe that the best way forward is for Britain to renegotiate a new relationship with the European Union—one based on an economic partnership involving a customs union and a single market in goods and services.”

Those are not my words, but the words of the Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade on his website. What representations has the Minister had from the Secretary of State in support of our membership of the customs union and single market?

The Secretary of State for International Trade is fully committed to the options that we set out in last year’s White Papers on the customs union and on trade. We are taking forward legislation to make sure that our aspirations in that respect for our negotiations with the EU can be landed when the deals are concluded.

Yesterday, I met a delegation of business representatives from my constituency who are optimistic about our prospects when we leave the single market and customs union. They are examining the concept of a free port for Immingham. Will the Minister agree to meet them when they have further developed their thoughts so that we can try to overcome possible obstacles?

I—or, indeed, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury—would of course be happy to meet my hon. Friend and the business colleagues from his constituency. We are potentially interested in free ports and will keep the idea under review.

Many Cabinet members have made their views clear about the single market and customs union. The Chancellor has said that he would like to see no tariffs with Europe after we leave the EU and no hard border in Northern Ireland. His exact words, which were in a letter to the Treasury Committee, were that he wants a deal

“that facilitates the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods between the UK and the EU, and allows us to forge new trade relationships with our partners in Europe and around the world.”

Will the Financial Secretary therefore welcome the speech that the Leader of the Opposition gave yesterday in which he proposed a new UK-EU customs union that would, to quote the Chancellor directly, facilitate

“the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods between the UK and the EU”

and allow us to

“forge new trade relationships with our partners in Europe and around the world”?

I am here to speak about Government policy, as you have quite rightly indicated, Mr Speaker. However, if I may say so, Opposition Members’ zig-zagging in respect of their position on the customs union has been quite extraordinary. If I understand what is being suggested, it seems to me, at a first take, that the idea that we can be in the customs union yet go out and have a high level of control over deals and free trade arrangements with other countries just does not hang together.