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No-Deal Brexit: Schedule of Tariffs

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:33 pm on 7th October 2019.

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Photo of Barry Gardiner Barry Gardiner Shadow Minister (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) (Energy and Climate Change), Shadow Secretary of State for International Trade 4:33 pm, 7th October 2019

I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box.

The Government failed to consult properly with business organisations or with trade unions before publishing these tariff measures, ignoring the very producers whose jobs and livelihoods would be most affected. Their refusal to listen and their inability to compromise are now posing grave dangers to our country.

The Government told us that EU manufacturers would be demanding a deal with us. They did not. The Government said that a trade deal with the EU would be the easiest in human history. It is not. The Government told us that they would have 40 trade agreements ready to be signed one second after midnight on Brexit day. They do not. Far from our seeing other countries

“chomping at the bit to strike trade deals with a post-Brexit Britain”,

as the Secretary of State claimed, many of those countries already have a trade agreement with us by way of the EU, but it is a trade agreement that will fall away if we leave the EU without a deal. The Government have failed to roll over all the existing deals with approximately 70 countries. That is why, earlier this year, the Government announced emergency proposals to reduce up to 87% of UK tariffs to zero, and to expand our tariff rate quotas in the event of a no deal. As new tariffs are imposed on our exports, damaging jobs, this is a desperate attempt to keep import costs down for British consumers.

So may I ask, first, whether the Minister will publish the Government’s assessment of the price rises that they anticipate would hit UK consumers in default of these tariff rates? The Government advise businesses that, in a no-deal scenario, we would trade under World Trade Organisation rules. However, the Government are yet to have our WTO schedules formally ratified owing to challenges over our tariff rate quotas—challenges that are likely to require substantial compensation to resolve. So, secondly, when does the Department believe that such a challenge may crystallise, and what contingency funds have they laid aside to pay compensation to any complainants?

The lunacy of the Government’s position has been exposed by a country that they previously regarded as a friendly model for their future free trade agreement with Europe. Canada has walked away from trade talks with the UK precisely because these measures would mean free access for Canadian exporters without requiring them to open up access to our goods and services in return. So, thirdly, can the Minister tell us what progress has since been made with respect to Canadian trade talks, and whether any other countries have similarly refused to negotiate as a result of the announcement of zero tariffs by the UK? Under this regime, UK companies will face competition from a flood of cheap imports, undercutting them and putting thousands of UK jobs at risk, without any reciprocal right of free access to their markets for our manufacturers and businesses.

Just about every single major trade body and trade union in the UK has decried the lack of engagement with it, and, in particular, the Department’s lack of understanding in respect of trade defence measures. So, fourthly, I ask the Minister what assessment he has made of the diversion of goods originally destined for other markets at a time when those other markets are increasing tariffs and taking substantive action to tackle the issue of dumping. These are existential threats to our industrial heartlands. The steel sector, the ceramics sector and the automotive sector are all greatly at risk from the proposed measures.

The EU has introduced stringent new safeguard measures to tackle dumping, and is due to set out its approach to tackling circumvention shortly. So, fifthly, does the Minister recognise that this could add further tariffs to our EU exports in the event of a no-deal Brexit, and could drive even more dumped goods to our markets? If so, sixthly, can he explain why the Government have sought to establish the weakest trade remedies authority in the world, and to do so without proper legal authority?