This week the ninth round of negotiations with the European Union is taking place. Since the last round of negotiations, as set out in the terms of reference, UK negotiators have continued informal discussions with the Commission in both Brussels and London. Differences, of course, still remain, but we are committed to working hard to reach agreement within the timeframe that the Prime Minister has set out. On financial services, we are still seeking to provide a predictable, transparent and business-friendly environment for firms that undertake cross-border business.
Stopping illegal crossings of the English channel must be a top priority, but my understanding is that, while we are still in the transition period, our ability to tackle this issue at sea in a robust way is significantly curtailed. Will my right hon. Friend reassure my constituents that a plan is in place to deal with this issue swiftly as soon as the transition period is over?
My hon. Friend raises a very important question that is of concern to constituents across the United Kingdom. We are actively looking at the steps we can take after we leave the transition period to ensure that we can both maintain our commitment to providing a safe haven for those genuinely fleeing persecution and safeguard our borders. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has appointed Dan O’Mahoney to lead the United Kingdom’s response in tackling illegal attempts to reach the United Kingdom.
Financial services are this country’s biggest export sector. The Treasury Committee heard evidence from the Bank of England last month that equivalence could be a real problem, as it could be withdrawn quickly. Could the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster update the House on how negotiations on financial services regulations are going?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that question, as a former Treasury Minister and a very effective advocate for one of the most successful parts of our economy. The granting of equivalence is an autonomous process within the European Union, but we are confident that the high standards of financial services regulation in this country command confidence not only in the EU but elsewhere. It is also the case that it is in the interests of EU citizens and companies that they have access to the broad and deep capital markets in London and across the United Kingdom.
Vauxhall Motors in my constituency exports the majority of its vehicles to the EU, but at the moment it does not know where it stands on rules of origin, and it does not look like that will be a priority in the next round of negotiations. Is it not time that the Government actually supported the UK automotive sector and made that a big priority in the next round of negotiations?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that question. If I may gently correct him, we do put the interests of the automotive sector front and centre. When it comes to rules of origin, diagonal cumulation or seeking a tariff-free and quota-free deal, that is at the heart of our negotiating approach, and the interests of his constituents are at the heart of the approach that Lord Frost is taking.
Yesterday, the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union was told by representatives of the UK chemicals industry that the cost to the sector of registering all chemicals under the new UK REACH system after 1 January will be about £1 billion because of the Government’s negotiating decisions. Can the right hon. Gentleman explain why, in the midst of an economic crisis, the Government have chosen to impose such enormous costs and red tape, to no benefit whatsoever, on one of our most important and successful industries?
The right hon. Gentleman is right that the chemicals sector is one of the many economic success stories of the United Kingdom. It is an inevitable consequence of leaving the European Union single market and customs union and freeing ourselves from the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union that we have to have our own regulatory systems in place. They will enable us to be competitive and to take advantage of increased autonomy and independence in the future. One of the great prizes of leaving the European Union is that, when it comes to life sciences and other areas, we will be freed from the often anti- science and anti-innovation approach that the EU has had hitherto.
The Government have said repeatedly, and I have heard the Minister say it many times, that they want a Canada-style deal. The Minister will know that Canada’s deal with the EU—the comprehensive economic and trade agreement—contains many commitments on a level playing field, with both parties signing up to an entire chapter on workers’ rights and two chapters on environmental standards. Could he try a straight answer to this question: will the Government be prepared to sign up to similar commitments in their deal with the EU?
Absolutely—we are totally committed to ensuring that there can be reassurance on workers’ rights and environmental protection. In a previous life, I was the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and as a result of our endeavours in the Environment Bill, the creation of the Office for Environmental Protection will mean that the UK is a world leader in upholding environmental standards. We will be upholding them to a higher level than the European Union does. What we cannot accept, however, is the European Union seeking to tie the United Kingdom to its laws and its jurisdiction. We are an independent country. The people voted in a referendum and a general election for us to reclaim our sovereignty. It is a pity that the Labour party thinks that the British people, when they have the freedom to choose, will choose lower standards. That is a lack of faith in this country and a lack of faith in democracy.