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Volume 792: debated on Tuesday 26 June 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the risk assessment published by Airbus of the impact on its business of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a proper agreement and adequate transition time.

My Lords, Airbus is important to the United Kingdom and we want continued investment in the UK industry from Airbus in the long term. The analysis that Airbus has published is based on a no-deal scenario, which we neither want nor expect. The Government remain committed to a trading environment with the EU that is as free and as frictionless as possible. We are confident that a Brexit agreement will be reached to our mutual benefit.

My Lords, the Minister’s reply does not actually get us any further. Indeed, Airbus is not alone. Is he not aware that it is these pious hopes and lack of clarity that force all responsible businesses to make contingency plans, to plan for the extra cost of disruption to the flow of goods and people, to plan for the absence of agreed standards on safety, certification and dispute resolution, and even to plan for possible tariffs? Will he take these concerns more seriously and respond in much clearer terms?

My Lords, I and other Ministers take these concerns seriously. That is why my right honourable friend the Secretary of State responded to this point yesterday in another place and made it quite clear that he was listening to the concerns of Airbus, just as I made it clear that we were. The important point to remember is that the analysis put forward by Airbus was based on a no-deal scenario. As the noble Lord is aware, we will continue to negotiate, and we hope that those negotiations will achieve a result that will be good for British business.

My Lords, the Minister is right to say that, in future, we need the investment of Airbus and companies like it with or without Brexit. However, the tone of the rebuke that came from his government colleagues over the weekend was inappropriate. The Foreign Secretary and the Health Secretary took a tone with Airbus that was absolutely counterproductive to future investment in this country. Will he join his Secretary of State, Greg Clark, in rebuking his colleagues and admit that it was not appropriate language?

My Lords, I do not think that it is for me to rebuke my colleagues somewhat higher up in the pecking order than I am. I am glad, however, that the noble Lord noted the tone used by my right honourable friend in response to a Question in another place yesterday on this subject. He made it absolutely clear that he and other Ministers in the department for business are prepared to listen to the concerns of business; we will continue to make sure that those concerns are taken into account in our negotiations.

My Lords, can the Minister go a little further and confirm to the House and more generally that there is not a two-stage policy here? Can he confirm that there is no sense in which the Government are supporting those companies that do not rock the boat over Brexit, as it were, and that they are not disparaging those British companies— responsible for many British jobs and for support of the British economy—that point out the inconsistencies and confusion at the heart of the Government’s negotiating position?

My Lords, I reject the last part of the noble Lord’s statement. I make it absolutely clear that we support all business, and we want a prosperous Britain, as my right honourable friend made clear when launching the industrial strategy and on other occasions. We will go on listening to the concerns of business that it brings to us, and make sure that they are taken into account in negotiations.

My Lords, should not the Minister worry about the pecking order? Leaving the EU is actually getting harder and harder to achieve on any sensible and non-hysterical basis and, indeed, is probably becoming impossible the way things are going, although the Government will not admit it. Bearing that in mind, is it not preposterous for Ministers and senior spokesmen for the Government to rubbish legitimate complaints by businesses? There will be more in future, and they should pay heed to them, bearing in mind that there will be a heavy consequence for the fate of this country.

My Lords, as the noble Lord would expect, I reject virtually all of what he had to say. I agree that it is important that we make it clear to business that we listen to its voices and concerns.

My Lords, noble Lords and business are demanding clarity, as my noble friend well knows. Will he accept that there will be no clarity until there is a positive interaction with the European Council and other European authorities?

My Lords, my noble friend is right to point out that we are in the middle of negotiations with the Commission, and it is important that we get those right. Obviously, there will not be clarity until negotiations are completed.

My Lords, will the Minister accept that the north-east Wales Airbus factory—6,000 strong—makes a magnificent contribution to Britain’s skills? It does training, high-tech and apprenticeships, directly in the line of Mr Chamberlain’s pre-war factory programme, which was Vickers, Hawker, BAE and now Airbus, which as a factory keeps the global fleet of Airbus aloft. If Britain is to retain her greatness, must not blue-chip companies such as Airbus be assured that their supply chains will be secure after Brexit? I declare my interest in the register.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord for emphasising just what skills and talents we have in north Wales; for that matter, we have them in other parts of the country. He was right to bring that to the attention of the House. As I said in earlier answers, we want to make sure that we continue to benefit from those skills, and I think Europe and the rest of the world will want to. That is why we will continue to negotiate as we are.

Is the Minister aware that Brexit could destroy the future of many young people? Four thousand youngsters have gone through the training programme in Airbus. At the moment, 400 apprentices are employed and trained at Broughton, and another 130 will join them. Brexit would destroy the future of these people. Is not it time that the Government really thought again about this insane proposal that they are supporting?

My Lords, the noble Lord will not be surprised that I do not agree with him, and he is wrong to pose such threats to the young people who are working for Airbus, for example, and being trained and making progress. We have skills and talents and want to make sure that they can continue to be used in the world that we are moving into post Brexit.

My Lords, we have reached the end of the programme of Question Time. We now have a Private Notice Question, which I believe the noble Lord, Lord West, wishes to ask.