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Third-country Trade Agreements

Volume 650: debated on Thursday 6 December 2018

1. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on the implications of EU withdrawal negotiations for potential trade agreements with third countries after the UK has left the EU. (908036)

I have had a number of discussions with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for International Trade, as we build on the political declaration’s recognition of an independent free trade policy. As with the withdrawal agreement, we will be free to negotiate, sign and ratify free trade agreements during the implementation period.

On a personal level, may I welcome my right hon. Friend to his new position? Britain must seize its amazing opportunity to forge a new role in the world as a beacon of free trade, and an important part of that is implementing not only primary but secondary legislation. Will the Secretary of State update the House on the progress of primary and secondary legislation, and say when some of it will come forward?

My hon. Friend is correct to focus, with his keen eye, on the importance of secondary legislation, and significant progress is being made. To date, we have laid before Parliament more than 220 statutory instruments out of a target of 700. We have made significant progress, and my hon. Friend is right also to look to the opportunity that we will have as an independent free trade nation.

May I join the hon. Member for North East Hampshire (Mr Jayawardena) in welcoming the Secretary of State to his first appearance at questions to the Department for Exiting the European Union? When he and Oliver Robbins appeared before the Exiting the European Union Committee on Monday, the question was raised about what will happen to the 40 or so trade agreements to which we are party because of our membership of the European Union and which relate to about 70 countries. We were told that the EU has said that it intends to inform those countries that they ought to interpret those deals as continuing to apply to the UK during the transition period, but Mr Robbins said that that is “not the same” as a guarantee. What assurances can the Secretary of State give to businesses that trade under those arrangements in many parts of the world if our own negotiators say that there is no guarantee that the deals will continue to apply?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his kind remarks. He is right—we did explore that issue in Committee—and the point is about the significant progress that has been made in our bilateral discussions with those countries. He is right to say that that is not an absolute guarantee—that was the point made by Mr Robbins—but significant progress is being made.

Further to the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn), contracts in those trade agreements are worth more than £73 billion of exports and about £74 billion of imports. That is a serious matter for businesses in the Secretary of State’s constituency, and mine, that might be trading under those agreements. In the event of no deal, we will lose those agreements from 30 March next year. Is it time that he and the Government made a statement to the House, to set out in detail the implications for UK businesses of losing access to those trade agreements, which we have been part of negotiating over the past 45 years?

The hon. Lady and I explored that point in Committee, and it is not the case that in the event of no deal we would lose those agreements, because we are having those bilateral discussions. She points to a wider point, however, which is that the deal on the table from the Prime Minister is the way to deliver the certainty that our country needs and what the business community wants. That is why it is the right deal, the only deal and the deal the House should support.

I welcome the Minister to his new post, and I hope he stays around long enough to realise how complex the world is in terms of international trade. Will he look forensically at what really happened with Bombardier, which was part of a complex supply chain? He does realise—does he not?—that no deal is as good as staying in the European Union.

I feel that I should look to the hon. Gentleman when it comes to sticking around, because he is a good model for many of us in the House. He is right to mention the importance of Bombardier. Notwithstanding points that have been raised from a constitutional perspective—I know colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party have raised that issue—the head of Bombardier in Northern Ireland made it clear that the deal that the Prime Minister has secured from the European Union is the right deal for Bombardier and for Northern Ireland.