EU-UK Partnership: EU’s Mandate

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:10 pm on 4th June 2020.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:10 pm, 4th June 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Andrew Griffith, who must represent one of the most beautiful parts of the UK. Sadly, I do not share his Panglossian view of where we are with the negotiations.

I tend to agree more with the former leader of the hon. Gentleman’s party, who asked the Prime Minister yesterday about the sorry state of manufacturing at the moment and the risk to car companies such as Nissan, with a possible 10% tariff to be levied if this does not go right. The purchasing managers index is down to 40, indicating contraction. We know that that is, in recession terms, a very serious position for manufacturing. The Governor of the Bank of England has described our economy as potentially going towards a depression rather than just a recession. This feels to me less like a Panglossian rebirth and more like a second punch in the face after covid.

I am very concerned about the sanitary and phytosanitary arrangements, which are not yet pinned down. I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify where she thinks we are on food standards. We have the gold standard at the moment, but we read in the newspaper concerns about the quality of imported food. What is her view of where we are with that negotiation?

Will the Minister also outline whether she believes we are likely to veer away from the excellent environmental protection standards in the European Union in order to save some of our businesses, which will be severely at risk? Will we cut corners on workers’ rights? Has she had conversations with the TUC about protecting the rights of workers? Obviously, statements were made about that in the last Parliament, and it was something that we debated a lot. However, given the way the economy is going at the moment—possibly even towards a depression—will the Government cut corners on important questions such as environmental protections and workers’ rights?

We have talked a lot this afternoon about Northern Ireland. Will the Minister please give businesses there clarity? They are not just important for communities in Northern Ireland; when we go to the shops and buy a bar of cheddar, which is our most popular cheese, we are buying it from farmers in Northern Ireland, so we all have an interest in getting these details right.

We know that the Prime Minister’s promise of an oven-ready deal with no checks at the border in Northern Ireland was a fiction. We now know that new red tape and rules will be introduced for the business community, much of which is small and medium-sized enterprises. Even a small amount of red tape can tip a small business into a problematic area, so please may we have some detail on that in writing, so that Members can disseminate it to those small businesses that are worried about it?

In conclusion, I beg for some pragmatism and not just an ideological approach to this important area. Given that we are in a seriously problematic area for our economy, we need to stop being ideological and be much more pragmatic.