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Trade: UK and EU

Volume 689: debated on Thursday 11 February 2021

What steps the Government are taking to help ensure goods can continue to flow freely between the UK and the EU. (912177)

What steps the Government are taking to help ensure goods can continue to flow freely between the UK and the EU. (912183)

What steps the Government are taking to help ensure goods can continue to flow freely between the UK and the EU. (912190)

What steps the Government are taking to help ensure goods can continue to flow freely between the UK and the EU. (912193)

Our trade and co-operation agreement with the EU is the first free trade agreement that the EU has ever reached based on zero tariffs and zero quotas. The agreement will help unlock investment and protect high-value jobs right across the UK. We will now take full advantage of the opportunities created by this deal, helping to boost productivity, unlock investment and safeguard high-value jobs in the UK. Goods are flowing freely through our ports, with levels of freight around what we would expect for this time of year, but we are also working closely with businesses that are facing challenges, and we are in regular operational contact with EU countries in order to smooth trade.

I thank my right hon. Friend for his answer, and I know he is doing all he can to reduce the turbulence, but Grimsby fish exporters are reporting to me that despite the EU agreement on free trade, French ports are introducing additional paperwork and extra costs. They are even insisting that we hire EU nationals to do that additional work. Will he take this matter up, so that we can ensure that the people of the EU continue to enjoy the highest quality seafood in Europe, processed in Great Grimsby?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The highest-quality seafood in the whole of Europe is produced in Great Grimsby. Indeed, I remember my dad, when he ran a fish processing business, sending some of the fish that he bought at Aberdeen fish market to Grimsby for processing, and it was enjoyed on tables across Europe. She is absolutely right to say that there are still some bureaucratic obstacles that we need to negotiate and navigate. We have set up a specific seafoods export working group, which meets twice weekly, and we are engaging with our friends in France in order to ensure that we can continue to enjoy Great Grimsby fish.

Two exporters in Kings Lynn, Guy Raymond Engineering and Captain Fawcett, a gentleman’s grooming firm, have raised concerns about waiting up to 16 hours for HMRC transit documentation, delays in customs clearance in France and other countries as they interpret the rules differently, and each courier firm demanding different informational declarations. This is delaying the delivery of their products, so will my right hon. Friend take up these issues with courier firms, HMRC and our EU partners so that goods can continue to flow to customers?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that in order to ensure that we have a seamless flow of trade, each individual element in that chain needs to be working as effectively as possible, so we are working with courier companies to ensure that we can smooth any difficulties, HMRC is looking at easements and facilitations, and of course we are talking to our EU friends and neighbours to ensure that there is a consistent approach.

Under the terms of the EU-UK trade deal, there is a requirement to set up a sanitary and phytosanitary trade committee as well as a committee on fishing. When will those committees be set up? If the EU does not adhere to the rules and the agreements that were made, will we restrict the licence given to any European fishing vessels in our waters?

My hon. Friend is a formidable advocate for the seafood sector; one of the largest fishing ports in England is in his constituency. He is absolutely right to say that there are means and mechanisms by which we and the EU can work together to smooth the export of high-quality seafood. There have been difficulties and challenges, but we are overcoming them and it is also important that we reserve our own rights when it comes to ensuring that the EU lives up to its side of the bargain.

Less than an hour ago, my office received a call from a haulier in my constituency who has been sending animal-based products to the continent for 40 years. The vet-checked lorry, which had its seal on, was held up at the Calais compound for 11 hours, even though it was on its way to Germany. It was eventually passed with just a cursory glance. In his meetings with his EU counterparts later today, will my right hon. Friend raise such issues and stress to them that it is not acceptable, and certainly not necessary, to do that?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Exporters have gone to great lengths to ensure that the products of animal origin that they are exporting meet the SPS requirements that are in place, and delays of the kind he mentions are unacceptable, so I will investigate that case.

Fishing exporters in my constituency are having problems exporting to the EU. We signed a deal that said we could export to the EU. What action is my right hon. Friend taking to ensure that these exports happen without hindrance, and will he start boarding EU vessels in retaliation if we still see this obstructive action on the part of the European Union?

My hon. Friend has been one of the doughtiest defenders of the fishing sector in this House for a few years now, and she is absolutely right to say that we need to ensure that any bureaucratic obstructions that individual EU member states may still be applying are lifted. As I mentioned in response to our hon. Friend the Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall), we will reserve our right as an independent coastal state to do whatever is required to ensure that our fishermen are backed up every step of the way.

The House of Commons Library described the EU trade and co-operation agreement by saying, as the Minister has:

“There will be no tariffs or quotas…provided rules of origin are met.”

However, it went on to say:

“There are increased non-tariff barriers, but measures on customs and trade facilitation to ease these.”

Given that 60% of companies have had difficulties importing from or exporting to the EU, and that 30% or more of companies have had their supply chain impacted in both directions, when will the measures to ease the problems at the borders begin to work?

First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment to his new role in the recent Scottish National party Westminster reshuffle, and look forward to working with him across the Dispatch Box. He is right to say that a number of facilitations and easements have been put in place, some before the end of the transition period on 31 December, but we are providing more support, particularly for small and medium-sized enterprises in order to enable them to take full advantage of their new opportunities.

I am struggling to see the advantages and new opportunities. A firm in my constituency, Wilde Mode Ltd, imports, among other things, rolls of printed fabric from Poland. Before Brexit, the cost of delivery was less than €40, but because courier and other companies are no longer shipping to the UK the owners of that company are now being quoted €2,000 for the same delivery. As the Minister will know, that is completely unsustainable. So I ask again: when will the measures to ease these problems be put in place fully and actually start to work?

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the case of the firm in his constituency and will look specifically at that firm’s challenges, and the position of both the firm in Poland that supplies all those fabrics and the courier he mentions, in order to make sure that any interruption in the free flow of produce from Poland to Dundee is dealt with.

A Make UK survey shows that 61% of manufacturers are suffering disruption to their supply chain; one car company is parking hundreds of cars because of problems with its supply chain; road haulage in Northern Ireland is in chaos; the Road Haulage Association survey shows that more than one in two of its members throughout the UK are swamped by red tape; and Government officials are even advising companies to set up hubs on the continent, when we should be building British and buying British. What will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster do finally to ease such burdens on business on our great British companies, which are deeply damaging, at the worst possible time?

I could not agree more with the hon. Gentleman on the need to build British and buy British. The procurement Green Paper that the Cabinet Office Minister Lord Agnew produced enables us to do just that. The hon. Gentleman mentioned a number of examples of disruption. There have been some challenges, but there have also been some reports, including, I regret to say, in The Observer, that have not been wholly accurate in their depiction of the challenges our exporters face.

Does the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster begin to recognise the scale of the mountainous problems confronting British business? The Government left them with one week between Christmas eve and 1 January to adapt to new rules running to hundreds of pages. Then, when companies all across the UK raised their concerns, the Prime Minister dismissed them as “teething problems”. Will the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster take this opportunity to apologise to British business for the disruption the Government have inflicted on them?

I know the hon. Gentleman has dedicated his life, both before he came into this House and in this House, to supporting British manufacturing, so I take seriously the concerns he raises. We meet business representative organisations every week through the Brexit business taskforce in order to deal with any challenges and to explore additional opportunities. I should have welcomed him to his new role in the shadow Cabinet Office team. I look forward to working with him, because I know that he is dedicated to making sure that British manufacturers, the best in the world, have all the opportunities they need. I hope to work pragmatically with him to achieve just that.