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Trade with the EU

Volume 718: debated on Thursday 21 July 2022

This Government continue to seek an excellent trading relationship with our former EU partners, just as we do with other international markets. Hon. Members will be pleased to note that goods exported to the EU for May 2022 were over 17% higher than the 2018 monthly average, so trade here is already increasing. To increase exports, we need to get more British businesses exporting, and to do that the Department has initiatives such as the Export Academy and the export champions scheme that help to give them the knowledge and practical help that they need.

Research by the London School of Economics has found a huge drop in the number of trade relationships between UK businesses and the EU, with a 30% decrease in the variety of goods sold. That is a clear indication of the damage that the Government’s Brexit deal is doing to smaller businesses, which cannot afford the increased costs of administration. Will the Minister detail how many small and medium-sized enterprises applied to the Brexit support fund and how many were successful? May I also ask the Minister, on behalf of the small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency, where is the urgency to find solutions to enable SMEs to trade with our EU neighbours once again?

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for your welcome. I also thank the hon. Member for her question. Of course, she did not support the EU trade agreement that this Government put in place, so it is quite rich for her now to turn around and say that we are not increasing exports. In my previous answer, I talked about the many interventions that this Government are making, including internationalisation and the Brexit support fund of £38 million that is going to small and medium-sized enterprises to help them overcome the barriers that the protectionist EU puts in place.

I, too, welcome the Minister to what I hope is a long and fruitful career. My question is about services, not goods. Our biggest export is the English language—it is the lingua franca of the world, isn’t it?—but the language schools that teach teenagers over the summer months are collapsing at quite a scary rate. Only seven out of 20 remain in Hastings, and there are three in Ealing, but before 2019 there were five. Will the Minister—whoever it is at any particular time—and their officials sit down with me and the trade bodies? They say that there has been an 80% drop in business, which is now going to Malta and Ireland. We can do better than this in global Britain. Can we sit down to talk about removing those things for this once lucrative—

Education is indeed one of the great opportunities, and the lingua franca of English is one of the benefits as we seek to do trade deals not just with our friends in Europe but across the whole world. I am very happy to talk to my colleagues in the Department for Education and between us respond to the hon. Lady.

As we look to the future, does my hon. Friend agree that it goes beyond the EU, as do the opportunities for trade around the world? From my constituency of Watford to the rest of the world, we have the opportunity to build industry and opportunity for everyone.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He is a champion of small business in his constituency. That is why it is so important that, as we seek to do trade deals such as the comprehensive and progressive trans-Pacific partnership and those with the Gulf, India, Canada and many more, we have SME chapters and SME preference within them.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I join you in wishing Penny and Isabel well for the future. I also welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box.

I ask this question in place of my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas), who has covid. I am sure that the whole House will wish him a swift recovery. The tonnage of UK trade in food, feed and drink with both the EU and non-EU countries has fallen and has been steadily falling since 2019. Looking back at the record of this Government over the past three years, does the Minister accept that they have failed to make Brexit work?

I am sure Government Members wish the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) a speedy recovery as well.

Tonnage is, of course, only one measure. I note that, for the year to March, the value of British exports actually increased. [Interruption.] It will be a combination of growing markets, a growing number of exporters and a greater ability of exporters to obtain the price for their exports. That is what we on the Conservative Benches are focused on.

I, too, welcome the Minister to his place.

Thanks to Westminster’s disastrous hostile post-Brexit immigration policy, our lack of workers means that Scottish exports of fruit and vegetables to the European Union are down by 53% and of dairy and eggs by 33%. Given that both candidates for Prime Minister as well as, indeed, the Labour Leader have stated that they will not do anything about that, is it not time that the UK Government stood aside and gave the powers over immigration to the Scottish Government so that we can protect these businesses and their Scottish trade?

I am very happy to talk to my colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions about the access to skilled workers, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will join me in thanking the Department’s Edinburgh-based team for its dedication to promoting the work of exporters from Scotland.

That answer will not give any comfort to those growers who are struggling at the moment. Of course, trade goes both ways, and our importing businesses are being hammered by long delays and increased costs. A single invoice shared with me by a small importer in Inverness, Oil and Vinegar, showed many new charges from the UK Government, running to many hundreds of pounds of additional costs. It contained separate lines for duty, admin fees and import custom fees, and the largest of all the costs was a curiously titled “Customs Add”. Does the Minister know how much the Treasury is raking in from these schemes? It must be vast sums. Will it call for any of it to be returned to those struggling businesses?

I share the hon. Gentleman’s pain in hearing of the friction presented to British firms in seeking to do trade internationally. That is why Scotland remaining in this great Union is a great advantage to British businesses that want a single one-stop shop. If he has not already availed himself of the Export Support Service’s helpline, I would be very happy to connect his businesses to that.