It is a pleasure to speak after Wera Hobhouse.
Too often in this place, when we talk about the implications of Brexit for business, we speak about multinationals—our car manufacturers, our pharmaceutical companies and our banks—but perhaps not often enough do we talk about small and medium-sized enterprises. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
The people behind SMEs are real people with real lives who have worked a lifetime to build a business, often risking everything they have to build something for themselves and their family. I violently agree with those who see a bright future outside the European Union. Despite being a remainer, that is what I believe, too, in the longer term. In the short term, as we have been trading in a certain way for 46 years, it is unfair and irresponsible to trample businesses underfoot in a headlong rush towards the exit door. We simply cannot look at these businesses and these businesspeople as collateral damage. When we talk about ideological concepts, the more important concept to a businessperson is finding the money to pay the bank loan, to pay the suppliers and to pay the wages.
This is not about “Project Fear.” I think a no-deal Brexit has real risks, particularly for those sectors that have time-dependent supply chains. Cash flow is the key element for any business. Businesses do not have weeks and months of cash flow sitting in the bank, waiting for a rainy day. For a business with a time-dependent supply chain, such as a business exporting shellfish to France, a consignment delayed by 12 hours loses 50% of its value, and a consignment delayed by 24 hours loses 100% of its value. If a business loses one or two of those consignments, it may well be out of business.
Of course some would say that there will be no delays at ports, but that is not consistent with the facts of a no deal. Michel Barnier has been very clear that, in a no-deal situation, there will be 100% checks on animal produce and livestock at the border. Even “Fact—NOT Friction” accepts that the EU may impose checks.
For Northern Ireland, in particular, this is a huge risk. A simple cottage pie ends up on a shop shelf in Northern Ireland having passed over the border in different forms—from livestock to end product—seven times. Each time it would have to go through a border inspection post. It is one of a number of cattle conundra that would have to be solved in a no-deal world.
A no deal could have significant and perhaps irreversible consequences for Northern Ireland and for the integrity of the United Kingdom, which is why I support the Prime Minister’s deal. The deal is a stepping-stone to the future. Yes, there are risks, but clearly we have negotiation advantages, too. For an SME, hope is not a strategy. We should support this deal, and I urge all hon. Members to do so.