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Leaving the EU: Manufacturing Jobs

Volume 649: debated on Tuesday 20 November 2018

4. What steps his Department is taking to help safeguard skilled manufacturing jobs after the UK leaves the EU. (907694)

The declaration on the future relationship with the EU sets out a joint ambition for zero tariffs and restrictions in goods trade, and an ambitious customs arrangement. Our industrial strategy will ensure that the UK remains one of the most competitive locations in the world for manufacturing. We have committed £140 million to the “Made Smarter” industrial digitalisation programme, which will help our manufacturing sector adopt new technologies and skills.

The Minister mentions the declaration, but of course it is seven pages long and offers no reassurance to businesses in Croydon. Recently I visited a Croydon business that is currently looking to move to Amsterdam. What more can the Government provide to ensure that that business and many more stay in the UK?

The hon. Lady’s constituency must contain businesses different from those I heard at the CBI yesterday, where the Prime Minister was applauded for precisely this approach; different from businesses in my constituency; and different from all the business leaders who have supported the Government’s proposed deal with the European Union.

Manufacturing accounts for 11% of jobs in the west midlands, one of the highest percentages for any region, and the region has one of the highest shares of goods imports and exports— 47% of its goods go to the EU. Does the Minister agree that Labour’s plan for Brexit, guaranteeing a new, comprehensive and permanent customs union and a strong single market relationship that allows British business continued access to European markets for both goods and services, is the deal that UK manufacturers need to thrive?

As far as I am aware, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders and the EEF, the manufacturers’ organisation, and all other organisations representing those industries in the midlands, in the hon. Lady’s constituency and surrounding constituencies, are very much in support of the Government’s policy for frictionless trade in the future.

The Secretary of State is aware of the threat to 190 skilled engineering jobs at GE Energy in Rugby. This has nothing to do with Brexit; rather, it is to do with a downturn in activity of the company’s traditional base. What advice can the Minister provide to the workforce and the local management team to secure this manufacturing activity in Rugby?

As ever, my hon. Friend is fully in support of so many businesses in his constituency. As he knows, my door is open to him and the company, to discuss any possibilities of helping them. I have seen many very good businesses in his constituency and I am excited about the prospects there for high-quality employment for his constituents.

The question is really whether we leave the EU at all. Yesterday, on the “Today” programme, the Secretary of State was arguing in favour of a proposal by the EU to extend the implementation period to the end of 2022. Was the Secretary of State doing his usual EU freelancing, or is that now the official policy of the UK Government?

The Government want to finalise the future trading relationship with the EU as quickly as possible. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State mentioned one alternative to achieve that.

In addition to the threat that leaving the EU poses to skilled manufacturing jobs, the Minister will be aware of the devastating news that Michelin plans to close its factory in Dundee, threatening 850 such jobs. Will the Minister work closely with the Scottish Government to ensure a future for that plant?

I reassure the hon. Gentleman that I have spoken to the company and I have sought assurances about support available to staff. The Secretary of State and I have spoken with the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work and with the Secretary of State for Scotland. The Department is playing an active role in the Dundee action group.

I thank the Minister for that answer, but his Government can do one thing right away to give immediate and future help. The UK Government are currently £50 million short on matching the Scottish Government on the Tay cities deal. Is this to be, like Aberdeen, Inverness and Stirling, part of a near £400 million shortage of match funding and a failure of the UK Government on city deals, or will he do the right thing and fight for match funding to support Dundee at this challenging time?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, each deal with each city is an individual one based on the circumstances of that city. I see him regularly, and it would be a pleasure to meet him to discuss his constituency and the proposed city deal.

18. [R] In terms of leaving the EU and our manufacturing sector, does the Minister not accept that staying in the customs union and in a form of single market is absolutely what is demanded in the long term—not “xx”—by our manufacturing sector? (907708)

The hon. Gentleman must be aware that the EEF has warmly accepted the Government’s proposals for a future trading relationship that will provide the kind of frictionless trade essential for his constituents and everyone else who works in the motor vehicle industry and the manufacturing sector.

“High tech manufacturing in every part of the country”—the Secretary of State’s words. General Electric is closing in Rugby and Michelin is closing in Dundee. From Swansea to Copeland to Lowestoft, his energy policies destroy more jobs than they create. By ending the enhanced capital allowance, the Budget took hundreds of millions of pounds from manufacturers, while doling out billions in corporate tax cuts. Manufacturing demand is now dropping at its fastest rate since 2015, yet the Cabinet is in meltdown over whether to walk out on the customs union in four months with no deal or in 24 months with the Prime Minister’s plan. Does the Minister agree that a permanent customs union is essential for British manufacturing and British jobs?

It will come as no surprise to you, Mr Speaker, that I disagree with a lot of what the hon. Lady has said. She says the Cabinet is in meltdown. It is not. [Interruption.] The Cabinet is not in meltdown. On her substantive question about energy, to the best of my knowledge, offshore energy is producing a lot of jobs, including in Tyneside. [Interruption.] It very much is. She must be aware, as far as the customs union part of her question is concerned, of the importance of the Government’s proposals, which provide the benefit of a very close relationship with all the countries in the EU. They also mean that this country will be able to enter into negotiations to sign free trade agreements with countries all over the world.