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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:49 am on 7th February 2018.

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Photo of Robin Walker Robin Walker The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union 10:49 am, 7th February 2018

I cannot give way right now because I have to cover a few more points.

Another important drawback of EFTA membership is that it requires free movement between its members. A number of Members have touched on that. It is true that Liechtenstein has a derogation from the principle of free movement of people under the EEA, but Members will agree that the UK is in many respects different from Liechtenstein, which is a country with a population numbering less than most of our constituencies—in 2016, the population totalled some 37,000. It is also worth noting that in 2016 more than a third of Liechtenstein’s population were not Liechtenstein citizens.

We of course want the UK to remain an open and tolerant country. It is important to note that the Prime Minister has written to EFTA citizens and EU citizens to assure them that we want to reach agreements that protect their right to achieve settled status in the UK.

Finally, I reiterate that there can be no question of our ties of friendship with our EFTA friends and neighbours, nor of our commitment to them. Taken together, the EFTA bloc of states is our third largest export partner in goods and services after the EU and the USA—that is larger than India and China combined. We receive 5% of our imports by value from them, making EFTA our fourth largest import partner. Norway and Iceland were also founding members of NATO. I reassure Members that we are seeking to maintain our excellent relations with EFTA states, with whom we have long-standing cultural and economic ties, as well as crucial trading relations. The Prime Minister wrote specifically to EFTA nations.

I do not have a great deal of time to go into the implementation period, but it is important to note, as the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich said, that we are seeking only one set of changes. It is crucial that business does not face two sets of changes. With that, I give my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon the floor for a chance to respond.