Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration: Economic Effect

Oral Answers to Questions — Wales – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 5th December 2018.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 12:00 am, 5th December 2018

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the potential economic effect on Wales of the adoption of the EU Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

What discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union on the potential economic effect on Wales of the adoption of the EU Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

The Government’s analysis shows that the deal the Government have negotiated is the best deal available for Welsh jobs and the Welsh economy. That allows us to honour the referendum and realise the new opportunities Brexit will bring.

Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip

But nobody in Wales voted for Brexit to make them poorer. Perhaps that is why the Welsh Assembly voted to reject the withdrawal agreement last night, as the Scottish Parliament will do this evening. The Minister’s Scottish colleagues are going around saying that the vote is needless. Does that not simply demonstrate the contempt that the Government and the Tories have always had for the devolution settlement? They are using Brexit to further undermine devolution.

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

I remind the hon. Gentleman that Wales voted to leave the European Union and that we have an obligation to respond to the demand that came from the referendum. We will continue to work with the Welsh Government in seeking a legislative consent motion to the withdrawal agreement Bill when it goes through Parliament. That is exactly what we gained having worked with them closely in relation to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. I look forward to continuing to working with them on the Bill.

Photo of Tommy Sheppard Tommy Sheppard Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Cabinet Office), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Scotland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (House of Lords)

Manufacturers and producers in Wales currently have tariff-free access to the Europe single market of more than 500 million people. The market provides the destination for two thirds of all Welsh exports. Will the Minister explain to me and the House how ripping Wales out of the customs union and the single market will improve prospects for those Welsh businesses?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman should be aware that the deal my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated gives the opportunity of tariff-free access with the European Union. It also gives us the opportunity to strike independent trade deals right around the world as an independent trading nation. I am optimistic about our prospects outside the European Union. I wish that optimism was shared elsewhere.

Photo of Chris Elmore Chris Elmore Opposition Whip (Commons)

In June, Wales exported £10.2 billion-worth of goods to the EU. The viability of manufacturing in Wales relies on frictionless trade with the EU. The Prime Minister’s deal gives no assurances to Welsh businesses—it just gives us buzzwords and more uncertainty—so when will the Secretary of State start doing his job and stand up for businesses in Wales?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

Last week, I spoke to the Welsh Automotive Forum annual dinner. The sector represents 18,000 employees in manufacturing in Wales. It was strongly supportive of the deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated. I wish the hon. Gentleman would appreciate it too.

Photo of Owen Smith Owen Smith Labour, Pontypridd

The Secretary of State says he is optimistic about Wales’s future after Brexit, but can he confirm from the Dispatch Box that Wales is going to be poorer—our GDP will be smaller—if we vote for his deal next week?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

The hon. Gentleman points to a range of economic scenarios that have been painted, but they do not take into account any response that the Government will make. Of course, a responsible Government will respond to the economic situation as it emerges. I am excited about the prospect of striking free trade deals right around the world as an independent trading nation once again.

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

I welcome the Minister to his place. On 2 May, the Secretary of State told the House that

“we are keen to negotiate to allow for the most frictionless trade possible with the European Union.”—[Official Report, 2 May 2018;
Vol. 640, c. 300.]

Why does the term “frictionless trade” not appear in the political declaration?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

I kindly point the hon. Lady to the political declaration, which says “as frictionless as possible”. In my mind, that can include frictionless.

Photo of Christina Rees Christina Rees Shadow Secretary of State for Wales

That just is not good enough. The Secretary of State has given his backing to an agreement that does not even mention Wales, let alone protect workers’ rights, environmental standards, consumer protections or living standards. Is not the reality that this is a bad deal for Wales that fails to give Welsh people the certainty needed to safeguard jobs and livelihoods?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

The deal that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has negotiated gives us the certainty of access to EU markets, but it also gives us new opportunities to strike trade deals around the world. I say to the hon. Lady that I am not sure what certainty a further referendum would bring, if that is her policy.

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Derek Thomas is much preoccupied with the elegance of his tie, by which I am myself duly impressed, but if he wished to shoehorn in the concerns he had in respect of Question 15 now, he could legitimately do so.

Photo of Derek Thomas Derek Thomas Conservative, St Ives

I appreciate the opportunity, Mr Speaker. Wales has appreciated European funding, as has Cornwall. Can the Secretary of State assure Cornwall and Wales that they will continue to receive money to tackle deprivation?

Photo of Alun Cairns Alun Cairns The Secretary of State for Wales

My hon. Friend makes an important point. He allows me to point to the UK shared prosperity fund, which was a manifesto commitment. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will outline at the comprehensive spending review the sums of money that will be available, but I am determined to get a much more efficient system that is responsive to the demands and needs of the community. After all, £4 billion has been spent in Wales over the last 16 years and we have not always received the best value out of that. [Interruption.]