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Support for Manufacturers

Volume 637: debated on Thursday 15 March 2018

6. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for manufacturers after the UK leaves the EU. (904381)

15. What discussions he has had with Cabinet colleagues on support for manufacturers after the UK leaves the EU. (904393)

This is, of course, a topic of frequent interest. Leaving the EU allows us to consider how our economy is shaped and presents an opportunity to deliver a pro-competitive, pro-innovation industrial strategy that builds on our strengths, provides certainty and stands the test of time, so that we have a resilient economy, ready for the future.

To ensure that trade is fair as well as free, there are over 40 defence instruments in place regarding steel at the European level. The behaviour of the US Administration at the moment may well mean that increases. Can the Minister give confidence to the steel industry that these trade defence instruments will remain in place at the point of moving out of the European Union?

This Government are very disappointed by the President’s intention to place tariffs on steel and aluminium. The UK fully supports open and free trade and measures to tackle unfair trade practices. As part of the preparations for the UK’s exit from the EU, we are committed to creating a trade remedies framework that is able to react efficiently and effectively. When the UK leaves the EU, we will remain a member of the World Trade Organisation. We will play a full part in promoting compliance with the rules-based trading system and, if necessary, make use of the WTO’s dispute resolution procedures in defence of our national interest—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is barracking me from a sedentary position. I say to him that if we adopted Labour’s position, all our trade remedies would be the policies of the European Union and not of the United Kingdom.

The chief executive of ADS— Mr Paul Everitt—which represents companies in the aerospace, defence, security and space sectors, has said:

“A customs union with the EU is a practical solution that would put businesses in the best possible position to compete after Brexit.”

If the Government care about manufacturing, will they reconsider their position on the customs union?

Of course we are concerned about aerospace; it is one of our greatest industries. I remind the hon. Gentleman of what was said by his hon. Friend, the hon. Member for Brent North (Barry Gardiner). He said that retaining membership of a customs union would be “deeply unattractive”, because it would stop us negotiating our own trade deals:

“As a transitional phase, a customs union agreement might be thought to have some merit. However, as an end point it is deeply unattractive. It would preclude us from making our own independent trade agreements with our five largest export markets outside the EU”.

For all the hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham P. Jones) says, his party is at sixes and sevens.

If China is illegally dumping steel in the United Kingdom, will the excellent Minister agree that it is better that the British Government decide what the remedy is, rather than the European Union?

I certainly agree that we should have our own trade policies in place and that we should not be standing against free trade. We should be unequivocally embracing free trade, but we must stand against unfair, anti-competitive practices, and that is what we will do.

If the Secretary of State and the Government will not consider the customs union, what specific support will they give to the aerospace sector, which employs so many people in Bristol?

I have good news for the hon. Lady. Both sides have agreed in principle that we should have a free trade agreement covering all sectors with zero tariffs. We believe that with a good-quality customs agreement we can achieve near-frictionless trade, and I believe that, taken together, those arrangements will ensure that our manufacturing industries, including aerospace, will have an ever brighter future.

The EEF—the voice of UK manufacturing and engineering—as well as ADS Group Limited, the CBI, the Institute of Directors and trade unions welcome Labour’s call for the negotiation of a comprehensive new UK-EU customs union post Brexit. Can the Minister name any significant manufacturing organisation or association that is on record as stating that either of the Government’s two customs propositions, set out in their future partnership paper in August last year, is remotely credible or workable?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that his hon. Friend the Member for Brent North said that remaining in a customs union would be a “disaster”. What we need to do is stand up for the consumer interest, and that means taking control of our tariff policies while ensuring free and frictionless trade.