On Wednesday in the House of Commons, Alok Sharma the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) led a debate on a White Paper which he was publishing in order to help unpack some of the consequences of the end of the EU membership and our transition and how we businesses will move forward with a market that is primarily the Great Britain market. However several issues did get discussed that relate to prospective external trade deals and one was a very positive if it is correct. The question came from Clive Efford, the Labour MP for Eltham and the response from Alok Sharma was
Let me address the point that the hon. Gentleman raises about chicken. He refers to chlorine-washed chicken: as he knows, it is illegal in the United Kingdom, and as a Government—as I have said earlier—we have been very clear that we will not sign up to trade deals that would compromise our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food safety standards. We are a world leader in those areas, and that is not going to change.
So on this subject at least, if Alok Sharma is correct, our risk from the US trade deal is not as high as many of us were concerned about. However the overall theme of trade deals is much more concerning. The question came from Sarah Olney, a Liberal Democratic MP who is also their parties spokesperson for BEIS.
This talk of powers being returned disguises the fact that the Government are denying us all here a much more important power—that of scrutinising the trade deals that are struck in our name. The British people used to have this power through their elected representatives in Brussels, but the Trade Bill comes back to the House on Monday and there is no provision in it for this Parliament to have scrutiny of the trade deals that are being struck in our name. Will the Secretary of State accept that trade flows throughout the United Kingdom can best be secured by instituting a robust and respected dispute resolution process, and will he confirm that implementing such a mechanism will be a priority as he progresses his plans?
As often happens in Parliament, rather than answering the question, the Minister chose to instead focus on the positive example being presented as a basis for the need for the scrutiny of future trade deals.
I say respectfully to the hon. Lady that she needs to move on. The British people decided that we were leaving the European Union in 2016 and we are implementing that vote.
So apparently the argument that we are leaving the EU to give sovereignty to Parliament (as opposed to the European Parliament that we voted for) is being ignored and instead it will be focused exclusively on the Government Ministers who will do the deals without any scrutiny being provided. The issues continue with this comment from Ed Miliband which Alok Sharma chose to ignore in his response.
There are significant problems in the announcement. On the process, for example, the Welsh Government were promised a draft of this White Paper last March, yet when I talked to the Welsh First Minister yesterday afternoon, the Government had still not shared it with him. That approach does the Secretary of State and the Government no good.
Then when Ian Blackford, the SNP Parliamentary leader raised some concerns the opening response from Alok Sharma was
The right hon. Gentleman talks about understanding Scotland; the one thing that is clear from the statements he has just made is that he certainly does not understand business in Scotland and he certainly does not understand the people of Scotland on this issue.
It is of course possible that Alok Sharma has met some Scottish Business leaders who disagree with the SNP but to suggest that a Scottish MP who coordinates a Party that contains 48 MPs for the 59 Scottish Constituencies is rather disturbing. So along with the criticism of the Liberal Democrats, of SNP and an unwillingness to work with the Welsh Government and a claim of understanding Scotland better than the SNP there was also this exchange between Andrew Griffith from Arundel and South Downs and Alok Sharma
AG: Does the Secretary of State agree that uncertainty is the enemy of investment, of employment and of consumer confidence? He should like to know that the businesswomen and men that I have been speaking to today have welcomed today’s certainty that goods and services from one part of the kingdom can continue to be sold in another and that employers in one part can continue to provide jobs to residents in another.
AS: My hon. Friend has had a glittering career in business, and more than some Opposition Members, he understands what uncertainty means for businesses. It means that they do not employ people and they do not invest, and at the end of the day that impacts on the growth of our economy. What these proposals give is that certainty and clarity that businesses want.
So given that very few businesses were anticipating there being a barrier between selling in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland it is perhaps rather disturbing that these two men were implying a different aspect. It would be fascinating to find out which businesses Andrew Griffith met with on Wednesday. In addition given Alok Sharma’s criticism of all other parties and indeed many people in their locations, can we rely on his claim that Chlorinated Chicken will not arrive and that trade between our four Nations will actually take place. As a final and for some of our businesses an even more important element, what will be the trade arrangements between our nation and the EU as in our companies case, the vast majority of the products we use come from Europe?