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Thankfully, the Benn Act will safeguard Britain from a no-deal Brexit, but with the Minister still insisting that, in only 24 days’ time, we might somehow crash out on a World Trade Organisation basis, does it not beggar belief that the Government have still not got around to publishing the final schedule of import tariffs for that eventuality? The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has said that what we have had is not the final word, and he has repeated that today.
At present, we can import from and export to the EU without any customs duties applying, but that could be about to end. The consequences for so many sectors of our economy, including farming, manufacturing and engineering, are massive. I ask the Minister: how are businesses supposed to “get ready”, as the £100 million advertising campaign suggests, if Ministers still cannot tell us the tariffs that will be imposed and seem incapable of even the most basic competent level of preparation?
The CBI director general Carolyn Fairbairn rightly asks why there is no time to consult industries about what tariffs will be applied. Even if we put aside the enormous non-tariff barriers of veterinary inspections, border checks and certification, are businesses to assume that the draft tariffs that were put out in March will still apply? Some of the import tariffs that Ministers are rumoured to be planning are really high. For example, if a British haulage company needs to buy an HGV truck from abroad, should it plan to pay an additional 22% on the cost or 10% because of the Government’s tariff plan? Will my constituents have to add 10% to the cost of buying a new car? What about the UK energy and bioethanol sector? Will customers have to pay the 4.7% tariff on fuel imported from the EU, as they currently do for fuel from beyond the EU? If not, will that not push the British energy sector into being at a competitive disadvantage when the 4.7% is imposed on its exports? There are container ships full of goods, components, textiles and clothing that have already been dispatched from the far east and elsewhere, heading for arrival at our shores at the end of the month. Will they face tariffs when they get to Britain, or not?
If British businesses suddenly have to start paying tariffs to export into Europe, what will the reciprocal tariffs be on goods imported into our country? How will British farmers compete with foreign produce when, for example, their lamb will face a 48% tariff when selling into Europe, their cheddar 57%, their poultry 37%, their wheat 53% and their beef 84%? The National Farmers Union is deeply concerned about the risk of foreign producers undercutting domestic production. So can the Minister at least do us the courtesy of setting out the rationale and strategic logic behind his decisions? Where is the parliamentary authority for imposing these tariffs and taxes? When will there be a vote in the House of Commons as the customs legislation requires?
Given that the Government now want a customs frontier in Ireland, will the Minister confirm that goods coming from the Republic into Northern Ireland will have tariffs added on? How does he think people and businesses in Northern Ireland will respond to the imposition of a tariff border in that way?
Would it not be far better to accept that erecting reciprocal tariffs between the UK and the EU is a fool’s errand—an endless cycle of costs and bureaucracy where everyone loses out in the end? Will the Minister at least have the good grace to acknowledge that, by leaving the single market and the customs union, British businesses and customers will be worse off, and for no good reason?