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House of Commons Hansard
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06 December 2018
Volume 650
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7. What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for International Trade on the potential effect of the proposed withdrawal agreement on the UK’s ability to trade with the US. [908042]

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DExEU Ministers and officials, as the House probably knows, engage regularly with the Department for International Trade on EU exit and trade matters. Our officials also jointly attend the US-UK trade and investment working group, which has met five times already. As the withdrawal agreement states, we will be free to negotiate, sign and ratify free trade agreements during the implementation period, and we will be able to bring them into force after that implementation period is complete.

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Is President Trump wrong when he says that the withdrawal agreement is a good deal for the EU but a bad deal for Britain?

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President Trump can justify his remarks for himself, but the US ambassador, Mr Woody Johnson, recently said:

“Britain is the perfect trading partner for the United States”.

That relationship is already the strongest we have—the United States is our single biggest trading partner, accounting for 20% of our trade—and there is no reason to suggest that that would be in any way jeopardised by the deal.

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There has been much talk about the backstop. In the unlikely and frankly unwelcome event that we find ourselves in it, will the Minister please confirm our position with respect to being able to sign trade deals with the United States and other countries?

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As I suggested in my earlier response, the United States is our single greatest trading partner as of today. There is no reason to suggest that that relationship cannot develop. Under article 129 of the withdrawal agreement, as Members know, we can negotiate, sign and ratify free trade agreements. It is very important to emphasise that point. Those relationships will kick in and take effect after the end of the implementation period.

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Since the legal advice of the Attorney General has proven that Northern Ireland is to consider GB as a third country, will the Minister outline how our trade relationship will proceed if this dastardly and despicable deal manages to slip through?

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As the hon. Gentleman has heard me suggest from the Dispatch Box, this is a good deal. It works for Britain and it is a very secure basis on which to provide the certainty from which our businesses can grow. With regard to the Northern Ireland backstop, it is not a situation that we want to be in; we hope to conclude a free trade arrangement before the backstop kicks in, and I have every confidence that we will manage to do so.

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Can we have a little bit of honesty in this House? The Minister knows full well that as long as we remain in the backstop, we can talk as much as we like to the United States, and we can sign an agreement with them, but we cannot implement an agreement with them or indeed with anyone else as long as we remain in the customs union. Will my hon. Friend just get up to say, “Yes, that’s true actually”?

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I think that my hon. Friend’s interpretation of the withdrawal agreement is slightly different from my own. The first thing I should say is that the backstop is a hypothetical situation; it is not a situation that the Government intend to be in. Let me repeat to the House: if we complete a free trade agreement, the backstop falls away—it is not something that we intend to pursue. [Interruption.] With respect to concluding trade deals, as he knows and as I have said, the withdrawal agreement states that we can sign those deals and they will be—[Interruption.]Forgive me—they will absolutely be concluded, or kick in, after the end of the implementation period.

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I repeat the question from the hon. Member for Lichfield (Michael Fabricant), because the Minister did not answer it. He surely has to confirm at the Dispatch Box that the deal means that any trade deals that might be signed cannot be implemented until we are out of the customs union and single market. He just has to get up and say that that is true.

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I simply reject the premise of the hon. Lady’s question. It is clear, and is stated clearly in the political declaration, that we will embark on negotiations with the EU and we will conclude them. That is our principal objective—to conclude a free trade agreement with the EU before the end of the implementation period.