Exiting the European Union (Consumer Protection)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:08 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Minister (International Trade) 3:08 pm, 2nd April 2019

I think he might be. Suffice it to say that that deal has been rejected three times, on the first occasion by the largest margin by which a Government have ever been defeated in the known history of Parliament. Quite apart from the undesirability of what is in that deal, I think we should probably move on. I have a sixth sense that it will come back for fuller debate on another occasion.

The Minister made a very strong case for cross-border co-operation, for maintaining the regulation and for a mutual recognition agreement so that we can maintain protections for consumers and businesses. I hope she will confirm that when she responds to the debate.

I am not able to confirm with absolute certainty that the revocation will deliver what the Government intend it to do. We have to accept the Minister’s word that it will do so. I have no reason not to accept it, but I do not have the technical expertise. The papers in front of us do not allow me to say any more than that, so I have to put on the record my reservations and those of my party. As ever with the statutory instruments we are being asked to approve, there is no impact assessment. The lack of published consultation responses also makes it that much harder for us to analyse what we are being asked to approve.

Businesses and consumers need confidence and certainty. I note from the explanatory memorandum that a number of business organisations were consulted. Perhaps the Minister could provide more detail on what they said. She has done so on previous occasions, so I look forward to hearing what was said in those consultation discussions.

The regulations that we are being asked to revoke are designed to prevent discrimination based on location. They exist to stimulate the internal market of the European Union and to support the free movement of goods and of free trade through the digital sector. They address the possible restriction on competition between businesses across the European Union market and ensure that consumers have access to the best offers, prices and conditions of sale. They do not limit trade for consumers to goods and services in their own country—that is a very important distinction—and that is precisely what has happened since the regulations were introduced at the start of last year. They also prevent website redirection away from businesses that are not in the consumer’s member state.

If we leave with no deal, the draft regulations will revoke the geo-blocking regulation completely. No deal would end the protections for UK businesses and consumers, as they would not be protected in the European Union. The Minister set that point out very well in her opening remarks. As she said, retaining the regulation in the UK would mean that we could be blocked but would not be able to block against discriminatory practices from within the European Union. Those points are well made in paragraphs 2.4 and 2.5 of the explanatory memorandum. Paragraph 2.4 makes the point that,

“if we did not revoke the Geo-Blocking Regulation, UK traders would continue to have obligations to EU customers under the Regulation while UK customers are unlikely to receive any of its benefits.”

Paragraph 2.5 states:

“To avoid this asymmetry of enforcement obligations in the EU’s favour, we are revoking the…Regulation in the UK.”

I accept those points, which is why we will not oppose the revocation.

The revocation of the regulations would at least minimise discrimination, but that is a bare minimum and a low base from which to operate. It would be far better not to have to do this and to have mutual recognition after we leave the European Union and continue with an arrangement that protects our businesses and consumers against discrimination as far as possible.

The draft regulations are an example of what no deal means. After yesterday’s latest failure by Members from across the House—but from some parties in particular—to be prepared to find a compromise to avoid no deal, we are one day closer to the dire prospect of that outcome. Of course, the Government should have taken no deal off the table, so that MPs did not have to do so, to avoid what in all honesty are desperate, last-minute no-deal preparations. That is the only way to describe what we are being asked to do today, 10 days before a likely no-deal departure.

The CBI was one of the business organisations referred to as having been consulted. Although I do not have its response to the consultation—I hope to hear it shortly from the Minister—I do have what it wrote to the Prime Minister, in a joint letter with the TUC, about the consequences of no deal. Is it not refreshing to see the leaders of the employers’ largest representative organisation and the leaders of the workers’ representative organisation working so closely together, signing a joint letter to the Prime Minister? That is what leadership in this country looks like and it is a great shame that we have not seen more of it from politicians.

The joint letter makes it clear that no deal would be disastrous for the country—for businesses and for workers—and that also applies to the draft regulations, should they ever be needed. On a no-deal outcome, the CBI-TUC letter states:

“Firms and communities across the UK are not ready for this outcome. The shock to our economy would be felt by generations to come…avoiding no deal is paramount.”

They describe no deal as causing “reckless damage”—[Interruption.] It is a shame that those Members commenting from sedentary positions on the Government Benches did not support some of the alternative options available to us yesterday. The TUC and CBI call for a plan B, which has been rejected by those Members who have been heckling me for the past few seconds.