Responding to the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, on his statement on the Government’s approach to negotiations over our future relationship with the EU, I made the following comments on behalf of the Labour Party:
Can I thank the Minister for the Cabinet Office for prior sight of his statement.
He talks about having got Brexit done – but he knows that’s not the case. We have taken the first step in leaving the European Union, but Brexit is far from done. And the Government’s ambition for our new relationship with our most important trading partner is frankly underwhelming. They started with a commitment to securing the “exact same benefits”, then scaled it back to “frictionless trade”, to protect our vital supply chains. Then it was ‘Canada ++’, now it’s ‘Canada’ – so long as that doesn’t get in the way of ending our alignment with the standards that we’ve previously enjoyed.
Now the Minister talked about the Government’s mandate in the General Election, which was based on a Withdrawal Agreement and a Political Declaration which says that a Free Trade Agreement will be “underpinned by provisions ensuring a level playing field” – which they now apparently reject.
The Minister spoke of higher UK standards than are required within the EU. And he’s right – there are some examples, there are also some contrary examples. But EU standards are a floor, not a ceiling. So, can I ask the Minister: if the Government have no intention of falling below those standards, why are they unwilling to make that commitment?
Mr Speaker, I spent Monday evening with manufacturing companies from across the north of England. They are not worried about alignment – indeed, they want it. They are concerned about the barriers to trade undermining their position in the crucial European market. Now I know that the PM has made his contempt for the views of business well-known. But will the Government not think again at this crucial moment, because they are taking serious risks with our economy, with people’s jobs and with their livelihoods.
The Treasury’s analysis from November 2018 predicted a ‘Canada-style’ FTA would shrink the economy by up to 6.4%. Now I know they’ve rubbished their own analysis already, but what new analysis have they done? So can I ask the Secretary of State: will the Government publish a full economic impact assessment of the deal they are seeking? And will they also publish the assessment of the other trade deals that he mentioned?
A recent FOI revealed the Department for International Trade has commissioned and received, but not yet published an assessment of the impact on the UK economy of the FTA with the US, with Japan, and the trans-pacific partnership. So, will he commit to publishing those impact assessments immediately?
The Prime Minister has told us time and time again that his Brexit deal “represents stability and certainty for business”. But in ruling out extending the transition period, the Government is taking business from one set of uncertainties to a new set. They are expecting to complete enormously complex negotiations in just 10 months, with a cavalier disregard of the consequences of failing to do so.
The Minister’s warning to business that customs checks are ‘inevitable’ and that ‘almost everybody’ will face extra barriers at the border is deeply concerning. Indeed, MR Speaker, the one place where the Government claims that there will not be checks for GB trade with Northern Ireland is the only place that they have actually so far committed to having them, down the Irish Sea. So can the Minister clarify, in the light of the conflicting statements from so many of his colleagues, what will be the extent of checks along the border they have now created down the Irish Sea?
Labour wants the best deal for Britain – in trade, in security and in all of the other areas mentioned by the Minister. That means maintaining the closest possible relationship with our most important trading partner. And it is on that to which we will hold this Government to account.