European Free Trade Association — [Mike Gapes in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Stephen Hammond Stephen Hammond Conservative, Wimbledon 9:30 am, 7th February 2018

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend, and I want to make a point in a moment about some of the Government’s ambitions regarding their Trade Bill.

Joining EFTA would be a significant help when it comes to making up for the loss of EU free trade agreements. It would demonstrate to the world that the United Kingdom is not leaving Europe as it leaves the EU, and it would highlight our commitment to global trade. Joining EFTA does not in any way stop the Government’s plan to negotiate a deep and special bespoke arrangement with the EU. Indeed, if that is the Government’s ambition and they wish to achieve it, they should consider joining EFTA, because it would greatly assist that goal by framing it within an institutional set-up that the EU is familiar with.

The negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement show how difficult and time-consuming a UK-EU deal could be. CETA took seven years. It was the most ambitious EU free trade agreement so far negotiated, and the Government’s stated ambition is to go some way beyond it. The chances that they will be able to fulfil that ambition without a framework that the EU is familiar with strikes me as laudable but potentially difficult to achieve.

The EFTA court, the surveillance authority, the council and secretariat are all institutions understood and trusted by the EU, with well-established systems for information access and consultation. They can be used as part of any future UK-EU deal, to strengthen our commitment and avoid creating new institutions.