Uk’S Withdrawal from the European Union

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:04 pm on 13th March 2019.

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Photo of Michael Gove Michael Gove The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:04 pm, 13th March 2019

Forty Members. Thank you very much, Mr Speaker.

I stressed earlier that if we choose to leave without a deal on 29 March, this country will face economic, political and constitutional challenges. We are a great country, and we would get through it. We would in due course ensure that this country was more prosperous, freer and successful, and of course the Government have been working hard to ensure that we can be prepared for any eventuality and that we can mitigate the risks of leaving without a deal. At this stage, I should like to pay particular tribute to the civil servants across the Government who have been working exceptionally hard and with great skill to ensure that we are ready for any eventuality. We do not pay tribute to civil servants often enough, and I am sure that everyone across the House will recognise how important their work is. However, I stress that that work is work to mitigate the challenges.

If we were to leave on 29 March without a withdrawal agreement, we would be treated as a third country by the European Union. That would mean that we would face tariffs on many of our products. I am acutely aware that some of the highest and most severe tariffs would be imposed on food. Our sheep farmers and beef farmers would face the instant imposition of tariffs of at least 40% and in some cases more than 100%. Their livelihoods, and indeed the economic and social health of our countryside, would face very challenging circumstances. None of us can be blithe or blasé about those challenges.

We also know that there are at least 145,000 businesses in this country that trade with the EU—and of course do commerce in the UK—but do not trade outside the EU. As soon as we become a third country, they will need to register with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in order to ensure that their trade can continue. Those businesses will need to secure their economic operator registration and identification—EORI—numbers and the other documentation necessary to trade. At the time of speaking, only about 50,000 of those 145,000 businesses have made those preparations. That means that, just over a fortnight away from the prospect of leaving without a deal, a significant number of businesses in this country do not have the wherewithal, the means, or the appropriate documentation to carry on trading.

On top of that, products of animal origin being exported to the European Union will need to undergo sanitary and phytosanitary checks—in addition to customs and other checks—at a border inspection post. A significant amount of our food produce crosses the narrow strait from Dover to Calais or goes through Eurotunnel. At the time of speaking, there is no border inspection post at either of those ports. Of course, there are many things that this Government can do to mitigate the consequences of no deal, but we cannot dictate what the EU’s tariffs will be, we cannot instruct the port authorities in France on how to order their affairs, and we cannot compel businesses to acquire the means necessary to continue to trade in the way that they have been doing. These all represent cumulative costs that businesses would face in the event of a no-deal exit on 29 March.