Only a few days to go: We’re raising £25,000 to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can hold their elected representatives to account.

Donate to our crowdfunder

Global Britain

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:12 pm on 30th January 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Tom Hunt Tom Hunt Conservative, Ipswich 4:12 pm, 30th January 2020

I share my hon. Friend’s view on that. Indeed, I hope that Ipswich will become a free port.

We know that 48% of the UK’s containerised trade goes through the port of Felixstowe, and a total of £80 billion-worth of goods pass through it every year. Both of these ports are major contributors to the East Anglian economy, and I know that my right hon. Friend the International Trade Secretary will share that view. We must remember that the ports do not just support the people employed directly by them, and that the business done at the ports ripples throughout the economy, supporting many thousands of jobs and livelihoods in the community. It is my firm belief that, as we leave the European Union and embrace a more global Britain, ports such as Ipswich and Felixstowe and the communities surrounding them can do even better if given the right tools to do so.

As members of the European Union, our trade policy has largely been made in Brussels, where the voice of East Anglia is but a whisper as 27 other countries with competing interests jostle for position on the EU side of trade negotiations. Some have said that trading off some of our interests in order to negotiate as part of a bloc is worth it because we have greater clout in negotiations with third-party countries, but that argument is meaningless if many of the proposed EU trade deals never see the light of day. Recently we saw the long EU-US negotiations on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership fall through. We also saw the negotiations with South American countries fall through. The EU-Canada deal, which eventually got through, did so only after the Walloon regional parliament in Belgium finally agreed to adhere to its main ambitions.

Inside the European Union, we have also been greatly restricted in our ability to designate docks, and the industrial clusters that rely on them, as free ports. Designating free ports would give our manufacturing sector a huge boost and create thousands of jobs. Given that most of our ports are located disproportionately in areas of high deprivation, employment growth from new free ports would occur where it is needed the most.

While we have been tied to a sluggish European Union, and paying for the privilege, the rest of the world has been moving forward at pace. In the past, before the internet, refrigerated shipping and the rapid rise of the developing world, regional trade blocs were understandably seen as the future, but today trade is more and more global. The EU now has an increasingly small share of the global economy and it is estimated that 90% of world output growth in 2020 will be generated outside the European Union. As a member of the European Union, our trade patterns have reflected these irresistible trends. The share of UK exports going to the EU has fallen from 55% in 2006 to 45% in 2018. In the face of all this, the EU has exhibited its protectionist tendencies. EU tariffs are high on goods such as food and clothing, which disproportionately impacts the least well-off in our society. These tariffs are also unfair to the least well-off people in the world, as those in developing countries struggle to compete in our marketplace on fair terms.

By way of contrast, other countries have reaped the benefits of embracing global free trade as independent nations. Among the most successful of these is Chile. Although not a large nation, it has struck free trade deals that cover 86% of global GDP, including with the EU, China, the USA, Japan and Canada, and a partial deal with India. I believe that if Chile can do it, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland can most certainly do it as well.

Outside the European Union, we can pursue a bold free trade agenda with the interests of East Anglia and its powerhouse ports at the forefront. We can be nimble and we can do trade agreements quickly, and I am glad to see that the Government have not lost any time in this endeavour, with deals with South Korea, Switzerland and Israel set to take effect once we leave the European Union. I am pleased that dialogues are also under way with many other nations, including the United States and our Commonwealth partners in Australia and India. I welcome the fact that one of the Government’s principal aims in these discussions is to ensure that our trade policy reflects the needs and the potential of the whole of the United Kingdom, because the potential of Ipswich and East Anglia is enormous when it comes to trade. The ports of Ipswich and Felixstowe have already had investment in preparation for Brexit, and both ports have the potential to expand. An estimated 98% of non-EU crates pass through the port of Felixstowe as quickly and as easily as goods arriving from the EU thanks to cargo tracking systems, which allow many goods to clear customs before they even reach the UK.

Furthermore, Ipswich’s workforce and community are ready to take advantage of the benefits of increased trade, as they have done for centuries. Like I said, East Anglia just needs the right tools in place to realise its trading potential, which will benefit the whole country. The people of Ipswich and Felixstowe, some of whom work in the ports, and elsewhere in our region stand ready to help the Government achieve their ambition to be the greatest country on earth, but we need Government support for our rail and road infrastructure to help us do just that.

Some 48% of the country’s containerised trade comes through the port of Felixstowe, but the only route around Ipswich involves a bridge that closes when it is windy. That simply is not good enough. We need a solution for the Orwell bridge so that it never has to close. We also need an Ipswich northern bypass, and we need to sort out Ely North junction. We need the complete electrification of rail routes across East Anglia, because rail freight currently goes down to London and then up again because of inadequate rail infrastructure.

The people of Ipswich are world beaters when it comes to international trade, and they stand ready to embrace competition. We in this place must remake the UK as a beacon for free trade around the world once more while ensuring that the people of this country have every opportunity to benefit fully from that. To be a truly global nation, we have to be nimble, dynamic, flexible and buccaneering. We should not be inward-looking, rigid, protectionist or sclerotic. I said in my maiden speech that this is the greatest country in the world, and tomorrow presents a fantastic opportunity to spend the next decade proving that to everyone around the world.