Exiting the European Union (Consumer Protection)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:23 pm on 2nd April 2019.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 3:23 pm, 2nd April 2019

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. We can all look back over the past three years and suggest that there were things that we might have done differently or changed.

“If? What? Could?” is great fun to play—hindsight has 20/20 vision—but the other 27 member states have their own red lines. The idea that if I or the hon. Gentleman had walked in as the UK Prime Minister, everyone would have said, “Ah, it’s you! What can we do for you? Let’s offer you a great deal” is for the birds. The other member states would still have had their own red lines.

As I said, the only things for which a negotiated deal is not necessary are a complete no deal and revoking and remaining—the latter for obvious reasons—but if we want a negotiated deal, we need the prism of a withdrawal agreement. There is a strong argument for saying that even if we did go down the no-deal route, we would find at some stage that if we wanted a free trade agreement, the first three items on the EU’s agenda would be: clarifying citizens’ rights, which is not particularly controversial across the House; a financial settlement—that might be where a debate comes in; and arrangements to keep the land border in Northern Ireland open. Whether under a withdrawal agreement now or a free trade agreement in the future, those three issues will almost certainly be the basis of any agreement, no matter which of the panoply of Brexit ideas we have been treated to over the last year or two the House, and ultimately the country, decides upon. Once the divorce process is complete, the second phase of negotiations and decision making in the House remain.

Great though it would be to settle Brexit this afternoon, it is time that I return to the substance of the SI: the geo-blocking regulation. [Interruption.] I hear shouts of joy from the shadow Front Bench. Geo-blocking sounds like something to do with a map—a rambler might find their geo-signal being blocked—but it is actually one part of making sure we have a single market online as we do for physical goods. Those of us who grew up in the late 1980s—I am not sure if my hon. Friend Julian Knight is old enough, and I am certain the Minister is not—will remember the debate about how much a particular CD or tape cost in the UK, the United States, Canada, Germany and other countries. Nine times out of 10 a CD produced in the same factory, with the same copyright and by the same company would be more expensive in certain countries—that excludes differing VAT rates, of course, because that could change the price in the shop; I am talking about the base cost excluding taxes.

The regulation tried to prevent different prices in different markets arising from differing charging and supply. Those of us who studied European law will know that the Commission tried to eliminate this grey market idea of trying to restrict or increase prices in particular markets across the EU single market—a single market that we will remain a part of during the implementation period, if the withdrawal agreement goes through. The regulation was about making sure the consumers had the full opportunities. Such regulations make a difference. It is eminently sensible that we revoke the regulation—I agree with the Minister’s reasoning, and, as I have said, it would be bizarre if British businesses were under an obligation that EU businesses were not but which EU businesses could enforce against us under our law—but having in place some other appropriate measure would make a difference.

I hope therefore that we could consider that in future trade agreements—and not just with the EU. I have just given the example of the US. With increasing online commerce and trading, we should look to open up to other jurisdictions that use the English language and have similar commercial standards, consumer protections and quality standards. Under future trade agreements, we should look to ensure that businesses large and small that are buying stuff in across our borders can benefit from free trade arrangements.