UK participation in EU and EEA organisations

Trade Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 25th June 2020.

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“(1) The Secretary of State must seek to negotiate an international trade agreement with the EU which will enable the United Kingdom to continue to co-operate closely with the bodies listed in subsection (2)—

(2) The bodies are—

(a) the European Medicines Agency;

(b) the European Chemicals Agency;

(c) the European Aviation Safety Agency;

(d) the European Maritime Safety Agency.”—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We have left the European Union and await the oven-ready Brexit deal that the Prime Minister promised the British people in December—it does feel as though it is in the slow cooker as opposed to the microwave. Nevertheless, our proximity to other European nations inevitably means that our trade, as well as much else, will continue to require significant co-operation with our allies in European capitals and, indeed, in Brussels. Surely, we should not put ideology before common sense but should consider sensibly which EU agencies that impact on trade it is worth maintaining a particularly close relationship with and, indeed, where continued membership is worth seeking. We suggest in the new clause that we should seek continued membership of the European Medicines Agency, the European Chemicals Agency, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency and the European Maritime Safety Agency.

If we are not members of the European system run by the European Chemicals Agency, there is a risk of divergence in chemicals regulation. That may just sound like a concern about red tape. However, if we are not members of the European Chemicals Agency, there is a risk of, for example, the EU27 saying that chemical x is not safe to use but our own new national system telling us not to worry about it and that it is safe. If UK and EU decisions on chemicals start to diverge, that will put pressure on UK chemicals companies to decide whether to stay in the UK or to leave and base themselves in the bigger market of the European Union. I am sure that all Members of the House would want to avoid that.

It is difficult to see how access to the REACH database can be achieved without membership of the European Chemicals Agency. Ian Cranshaw, who spoke to us on behalf of the chemicals trade body when we heard witness statements, made clear how difficult it appeared to be to continue to have access to the REACH database without, effectively, membership of the European Chemicals Agency. He went on to set out how membership of the REACH database is the gold standard for chemicals regulation and how important it was for British firms to continue to have access to it.

The European Medicines Agency is critical to ensuring that medicines for humans and animals are safe. It helps to foster innovation and the development of new medicines across the European Union. By ensuring cross-European collaboration, it has helped to bring down the cost of medicines through its policing role in respect of the single market for medicines. Every month, the UK-EU trade in pharmaceutical products is huge; upwards of 70 million packages move between the UK and the EU every month. The UK pharmaceutical industry is very heavily regulated, and it is heavily regulated because it is an integral part of Europe’s medicines regime. It surely, therefore, makes sense to remain a member of that agency.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency has responsibility for civil aviation safety across Europe, but it also has a series of critical trade-related roles, including being responsible for much of the airworthiness and environmental certification of all aeronautical products, parts and appliances that are designed, manufactured and maintained in Europe. It negotiates international harmonisation agreements with the rest of the world and concludes technical agreements with other countries, such as with the US Federal Aviation Administration. Continued membership of the European Union Aviation Safety Agency would give the UK access to a global industry leader, in terms of standard setting for trade in aviation. Surely, we should continue to belong to it.

The European Maritime Safety Agency was set up after the Erika disaster, when the oil tanker Erika broke in two in the bay of Biscay in December 1999 and thousands of tonnes of oil were released into the sea. It triggered a package of EU laws to improve safety in the shipping industry, including the establishment of an agency to oversee the implementation of safety laws, which have helped to ensure that the English channel and the rest of our seas are properly protected from oil spills and other pollution from the big ships that carry traded goods. Surely, it makes sense to remain a member of that agency.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade 4:45 pm, 25th June 2020

On new clause 21, regarding the parameters of the UK’s future relationship with the EU, the Government have made it clear that our priority is to ensure that we restore our economic and political independence on 1 January 2021. The approach to the future relationship with the EU has already been extensively discussed not just in the previous Parliament but in this one, particularly during the debates on the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. During those debates and subsequently, the Government have been clear that we want a relationship with the EU that is based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade. That is what Taskforce Europe, working with the Prime Minister, is pursuing.

The UK published its approach to the negotiation of a future relationship with the EU on 27 February 2020. Our approach builds on the EU’s offer of a Canada-style deal. It reflects the type of free trade agreement that should be achievable between sovereign states that respect each other’s independence, as the EU has done in the past. We will discuss with the EU how to manage our friendly relations, but any solution has to respect our legal and political autonomy. Members will be aware that there are very limited options for third-country membership of EU bodies. We have been clear that we will be operating on the basis of existing precedents and no acceptance of the European Court of Justice.

However, I acknowledge that members of the Committee are looking for reassurance about the Government’s approach to negotiations with the EU in relation to the four bodies listed in the new clause. On the European Medicines Agency, we have stated that the UK-EU FTA should include commitments to co-operate on pharma co-vigilance, and to develop a comprehensive confidentiality agreement between regulators, in line with agreements between the European Medicines Agency and Swiss, US and Canadian authorities. The UK’s published response in respect of the European Chemicals Agency states that the UK-EU FTA should include a commitment to develop a memorandum of understanding to enhance co-operation further, similar to the MOUs that the European Chemicals Agency has agreed with Australia and Canada.

On the European Union Aviation Safety Agency, the UK’s published position is that we have proposed a bilateral aviation safety agreement that will facilitate the recognition of aviation safety standards between the UN and the EU, minimising the regulatory burden for industry. On the European Maritime Safety Agency, the UK is discussing with the EU how best to manage our friendly relations, but any solution has to respect our red line of no commitments to follow EU law, and no acceptance of the ECJ.

It is important to be clear that, in our negotiations with the EU, we are not asking for a special, bespoke or unique deal; we are looking for a deal like those that the EU has previously struck with other friendly countries such as Canada. I hope the confirmation of the Government’s approach to the four agencies mentioned in the new clause has reassured the Committee, and I ask the hon. Member for Harrow West to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Although it has been useful to hear the reassurance that the Minister has attempted to provide, we still think that seeking membership of those four specific agencies makes sense. I intend to press the new clause to a vote.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 19 Trade Bill — UK participation in EU and EEA organisations

Aye: 7 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill to the House.

Photo of Greg Hands Greg Hands The Minister of State, Department for International Trade

On a point of order, Sir Graham, I thank you, Ms Cummins, and everybody involved in the Bill for all your hard work in Committee. Once again, I am both pleased and privileged to have been able to engage in a thorough debate on the contents of the Bill, which bears an uncanny resemblance to the Trade Bill in the last Parliament. I have been in and out of the Department for International Trade, but on returning to the Department, I found the Bill looking more or less the same as when I left the Department in June 2018.

I thank the Committee for engaging with the issues in a positive and constructive way; we have had some real insight, not only into trade policy overall, but into how opposition parties deal with trade policy. I will not dwell further on that, because I have made a few points already, but it is good to see that the approach patented by Barry Gardiner—with the Opposition’s trade policy a moving feast—lives on today in his absence.

We have had a great debate, carried out in a good spirit, during our two-week immersion in trade policy. I think that, no matter which party one belongs to, a full two-week immersion in trade policy is a great thing as we move forward towards our independent trade policy, effective from 1 January 2021. We can all only benefit from such an immersion.

My thanks also go to the Government and Opposition Whips, who have ensured that the Committee has run smoothly and effectively, and to you, Sir Graham, and Ms Cummins, for being exemplary Chairs. I am very grateful for your guidance during our deliberations. I pay tribute to the usual channels for their help and guidance throughout; to Hansard for their diligence in recording all that we have said for posterity; and to the Clerk for his advice.

I also thank my team of officials for their support in undertaking box duty without ever entering the Palace of Westminster; I do not think that is a good thing overall, as I always encourage civil servants to come into Parliament as often as possible. It is very important for civil servants to understand how Parliament works but, given the current circumstances, I am fully understanding of the Department’s procedures for the scrutiny of the Bill.

The last time I stood here, I said that this was the first ever piece of legislation from the Department for International Trade. It is still our first Bill. I am confident that this legislation will now make its way on to the statute book and will be all the better for the work of the Committee.

Photo of Bill Esterson Bill Esterson Shadow Minister (International Trade)

Further to that point of order, Sir Graham. I add my thanks to you and your co-Chair, Ms Cummins, for your diligent and considerable efforts to ensure order during our deliberations. I thank the witnesses who gave evidence, the Clerk, all the officials and Hansard. As the Minister said, it is a challenging time for all who are involved in making sure that Committees operate effectively.

I thank the Whips. The Government Whip was entirely fair in her criticisms of the Opposition, as she raised the same number of points of order about my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West and me—fair play to her for her fairness. The Minister described the Bill as a continuity Bill a number of times, and he has been the continuity Minister on the continuity Bill. He is nothing if not consistent, because he gave exactly the same answers as he gave last time around. I hope that this time we will make some progress on the Bill and see the end result. I dare say that we will return to some of these arguments on Report, and that the Lords will have their say.

The Minister mentioned my hon. Friend the Member for Brent North. Where would we be without the hon. Gentleman? At least this time we did not have to resort to making up fictional names for countries to make our points. There will have been no Xanadu in Hansard until now.

I thank hon. Members on the Government Back Benches for bearing with us—it is a thankless task. I hope one day to be on the Government side, although I do not know whether I would hope to be a Government Back Bencher. Being a Government Back-Bencher in Committee, where they take a vow of silence, is undoubtedly a thankless task, but most of them managed to perform their duties diligently. One or two found it impossible, but I understand that. With that, I thank everyone for their contributions.

Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee

I thank the hon. Gentlemen for their points of order. I add my thanks to Hansard and in particular to the Clerk, given that we go back to the Education and Employment Committee in the 1997 Parliament. I have been well served and well advised by this Clerk for many years.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

TB15 TheCityUK

TB16 British Chambers of Commerce

TB17 The City of London Corporation

TB18 Michael Bowsher QC