Yesterday with a heavy heart I pushed my New Clause 18 to the Trade Bill to a vote. This is a decision I agonised over and took no pleasure in making. My amendment did not pass, but I will continue to represent my constituents by fighting to protect jobs and the economy.
My new clause stipulates that it should be the Government’s objective to secure a frictionless free trade area for goods with the EU. This is exactly what the Government’s plans are, and have been even before Chequers. Should this not be possible by the 21st January then my new clause states the Government should seek to enter a Customs Union with the European Union.
This is designed to be an insurance policy against the catastrophe of a no deal. As I said in my debate on customs arrangements last week, there is a huge risk to businesses, jobs, complex supply chains and our ports if we crash out without a deal. For example, HMRC estimates that 180,000 exporters will now need to make a customs declaration for the first time, having not needed to do so previously. This is why businesses such as Airbus and Jaguar Land Rover have been increasingly vocal about the risks they face over the last few weeks.
The 21st January 2019 was chosen as the date as the Government has legislated that if there is no agreement by this date it must come to the House of Commons and explain how it proposes to proceed. My amendment was simply a reflection of the Government’s existing plans. If we get to 21st January 2019 and there is no agreement, no deal would be a real possibility.
It is important to stress that this new clause would not have stopped the UK leaving the EU in March, it does not mean there needs to be a customs union forever - if the technology is developed which comes up with an alternative solution this can still be introduced. Indeed, this is the plan in the White Paper, in which the Facilitated Customs Arrangement will be phased in. My amendment does not stop the Prime Minister’s plans in the White Paper, and I wish her well. The White Paper was a welcome step in the right direction and must be kept on the road.
I also voted in favour of new clause 17, which was tabled by several colleagues who are medical doctors, which makes it a negotiating objective for the UK to remaining part of the European medicines regulatory network partnership. This network is how we can ensure the NHS has access to the medicines it needs and is how our pharmaceutical sector can thrive. I was pleased this amendment passed.
Finally, on Monday I voted against two ERG amendments to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill. These were designed to undermine the Prime Minister and our Brexit negotiations. I believe the Government’s White Paper is a step in the right direction and must be kept on the road. I will support any deal based on it.