Let me start by saying that, to my mind, the European Research Group’s amendments are clearly aimed at restricting the Government’s ability to negotiate, if indeed they are compatible with the White Paper at all—a White Paper that I support. Amendment 73 and new clause 36 certainly fall into that category. I think that they have been tabled by those who wish to create such difficulties and red lines that we are forced into a hard Brexit, ostensibly by default but secretly by design. They will not have my support tonight.
I want to address the claims of those who say that we do not want the FCA, or indeed a customs union, because we cannot then strike our own trade deals. I note that the Government maintain that we should be able to separate goods from services, but others caution against that because goods and services are often so intrinsically linked that it is unrealistic. I will wait to see the EU’s position.
However, on the central issue of negotiating our own FTAs, I think that we need to question the benefits that so many seem to be taking for granted. First, we need to appreciate that the Department for International Trade is currently acting like something of a Jekyll and Hyde character—on the one hand the Secretary of State is talking about bravely striding around the world seeking new FTAs with countries such as the US and China, but on the other he is pleading with the EU and about 70 third-party countries to roll over the existing 40 or so FTAs that the EU now has with them. So, with more than one third of the world’s countries, Brexit represents the chance at best to get the same deal as from the EU. From the look of things, we may yet get a worse deal in some cases as those third countries start evaluating the decreased advantage of dealing with 50 million rather than 500 million people.
Secondly, there is little evidence that business sees any advantage in customs differentiation—indeed, quite the opposite. The vast majority see advantages in our customs negotiating position, which emanates from the power of the huge trading bloc that the EU represents, and will wish in any event to stick as closely as possible to whatever trading position the EU takes.
Thirdly, world trade is much more interlinked and complex than most people discuss. For example, some of the existing trade agreements that we want to roll over, such as those with Canada and South Korea, feature most favoured nation clauses. Therefore, if we agree a FTA with the USA that offers better terms than those we agreed with Canada, Canada would need to be offered the same. The advantages of being outside the customs union are thus much reduced in any event, and talk of becoming a colony or vassal state is ridiculous.
Fourthly, we live in a world of trading deals where size matters. Rather than discussing a trade deal with the US, we have become caught up in a trade battle. Again, if we were in a customs union, we would have more cover.
Finally, the process of negotiating new FTAs is a long and arduous business. The average time is seven years; Canada took 15 years. Bargaining is tough and based on potential market clout. That goes back to the possibility of US chlorinated chickens and so forth. We need—