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EU Withdrawal Agreement

Volume 653: debated on Wednesday 23 January 2019

9. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the Welsh economy of the EU withdrawal agreement. (908679)

13. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on Wales of the EU withdrawal agreement. (908683)

With your permission, Mr Speaker, before I answer the questions, may I say that I am sure the House will want to join me in paying tribute and respect to Assembly Member Steffan Lewis, who sadly died just over a week ago? He was a bright and dedicated politician who had an exceptional future in front of him, with so much to offer Wales. My prayers and thoughts are with his wife, Shona, and son, Celyn, at this most difficult time.

I can update the House that the UK air accidents investigation branch is working with the relevant rescue and transportation authorities in relation to Emiliano Sala and the pilot who went missing on Monday evening. I am sure that the whole House wishes to join me in hoping for a positive outcome.

The Government are working to identify the broadest possible consensus on a way forward so that we leave the European Union in a smooth and orderly manner. We are engaging with Members on both sides of the House and with representatives of business groups, civil society, trade unions and others.

A recent report by The UK in a Changing Europe has found that almost half of all respondents oppose the Prime Minister’s deal, with only 23% in support. How can the Secretary of State reconcile his position of being Wales’s champion in Westminster when this place is working contrary to Welsh public opinion?

In the first instance, I remind the hon. Lady that Wales voted to leave the European Union in even stronger numbers than the rest of the United Kingdom. The withdrawal agreement sets out the basis on which, and how, we will leave the European Union. In the light of last week’s votes, we are determined to make amendments and to develop a document in consultation with colleagues across the House in order to win the House of Commons’ support.

May I associate myself with the Secretary of State’s comments about Steffan Lewis? He and I worked together as young researchers in the National Assembly for Wales. We must remember the words of our colleague Jo Cox that we do have a lot more in common across this House and across the devolved institutions.

Will the Secretary of State simply rule out now, and make representations to the Prime Minister to rule out, no deal, so that the automotive industry in Bridgend—Ford in Bridgend employs many of my constituents—can have certainty beyond March? This continuing planning for no deal is providing no certainty to anybody.

I would say to the hon. Gentleman that the best way of avoiding no deal is obviously to get a deal. It was interesting that the hon. Gentleman voted against the deal last week. We will continue to engage across the House and with the devolved Administrations, and we are optimistic that we will continue to make amendments to the document that will gain a deal with the European Union.

In an excellent briefing on the 9th, organised by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, on the effects of leaving the European Union on businesses in Northern Ireland, I was told the slightly unknown fact that 40% of Northern Ireland perishable food exports come through Holyhead. This fact was not known to the people I met then, and is perhaps not known to other Members of this House. What assessment has the Secretary of State made of the impact of a no deal on the supply chains that sustain the exports of such foods through the port of Holyhead, and will he confirm what steps he is taking personally to mitigate that impact?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about the port of Holyhead. It is the second busiest port in the UK during the summer months, but of course all year round it is pretty critical to the supply chain, particularly for foodstuffs that come from both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A ports working group has been in place for quite some time—it involves the UK Government, the Welsh Government and the relevant UK Government agencies—to plan for a deal, and also to plan for no deal, as a responsible Government would do.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that voters in Wales will not forgive this place if we fail to respect the outcome of the 2016 referendum, and that businesses in Wales will not forgive us if we create a set of circumstances that makes their job of creating jobs in Wales even harder? Given those two imperatives, does my right hon. Friend agree that actually passing a withdrawal agreement—passing a deal—is absolutely essential now?

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for his question. He obviously recognises the importance of gaining a deal, and I have no doubt he will play a significant part in working with the Government and influencing colleagues in understanding the opportunities and the challenges that we face. He is absolutely right: the ports in Pembrokeshire are extremely important to the Welsh economy—my right hon. Friend regularly highlights those—but he also understands the importance of agriculture and manufacturing, and why a deal is so important to those sectors, too.

What assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the opportunities for Wales, once we leave the European Union, of more jobs and investment, and also of the potential for Wales to boom, as opposed to the doom and gloom of the Labour party?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question. He will be well aware that, in the past quarter, the UK economy was growing faster than the eurozone economy—the UK grew by 0.6% while the German and Italian economies went into decline. That highlights some of the opportunities that we face but, of course, we can grasp them in the smoothest way only if we manage to get a deal with the European Union.

Given that the Wales CBI has said that a no-deal Brexit will see a £7 billion annual fall in Welsh manufacturing output and output generally in the economy, will he, for goodness’ sake, simply admit that a no-deal Brexit will be bad for Wales? Before he responds, let me say that I do not want a Maybotic answer.

The hon. Gentleman will know that there are many predictions in economic forecasts, but they are forecasts rather than fact. He will have predicted a recession after the 2010 general election—he may well have even predicted a double or treble-dip recession—but I hope that he will recognise the fantastic employment data that was published yesterday showing record numbers of people in work in Wales. The inactivity rates in Wales are at staggeringly positive numbers, matching the rest of the UK for the first time since records began.

I echo the words of the Secretary of State with regard to Steffan Lewis and Emiliano Sala.

The Secretary of State voted for the Prime Minister’s disastrously flawed withdrawal agreement—he was one of the few, not the many. Will he explain why the Government pretend that nothing has changed, despite their suffering the biggest defeat in parliamentary history?

It is no secret that the House did not support the deal that was presented to it last week, but we are committed to working with colleagues across our own Benches, and across the House, to come forward with a proposal that can gather the support of the House of Commons and, obviously, to negotiate with the European Union in order to get a deal. I am sure that the hon. Lady would much prefer to see a deal and I challenge her to say whether she was comfortable being in the same Lobby as some colleagues, from all parts of the House, who would like to see no deal.

I think that that was a Cairnsbotic answer.

Yesterday, the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, cleared Government business in the Welsh Assembly so that he and his Cabinet Ministers could make urgent statements on how a no-deal outcome would be so disastrous for the people of Wales. Will the Secretary of State tell us if he will be voting for amendments put forward in this House to avoid a no-deal outcome, or will he, like his Prime Minister, put party before country?

I can advise the House that the UK Government have laid 75 statutory instruments at the Assembly’s request. We have had countless meetings of the Joint Ministerial Committee and the Prime Minister has agreed to invite the First Minister to the European Union Exit and Trade (Preparedness) Sub-Committee. I hope that that demonstrates the joint work that is taking place. The hon. Lady talks about putting party interests first. I cannot understand why the First Minister of Wales is happy to meet the Prime Minister—they will be meeting later today—but the Leader of the Opposition refuses to meet her to discuss the prospect of a deal, yet seems always happy to meet the IRA.