Darren Jones – 2020 Speech on the Trade Bill

Below is the text of the speech made by Darren Jones, the Labour MP for Bristol North West, in the House of Commons on 20 May 2020.

According to research from the Harvard Kennedy School’s Growth Lab, British exports have been declining, concentrating into a smaller number of products and acting as a drag on our economic growth. Remarkably, in the past decade the UK has added only two new export products, and, perhaps embarrassingly, our main new export has been bovine, sheep and goat fat. I declare my interest as an amateur vegan, but I suggest that an economy that is as complex and capable as ours really ought to have done better.

We know that economic growth can be driven by export diversification, but to do that we need an active industrial strategy that works with the market to make clear what we actually want to achieve while investing in workers with the skills to do it. Some colleagues will say, “Ah, but it was the European Union’s job, and now that we are taking back control, it will be much better and the Bill will help us do that.” I would respectfully compare the UK’s record to, for example, that of France, which is, of course, a member of the European Union. During the same timeframe in which the UK majored on bovine, sheep and goat fats, and added around $2 per capita, with a total UK market of $104 million, France has managed to add 10 new projects, creating a new $1.9 billion market and growing GDP per capita by $28. It has therefore been a question of intent and ability, not a question of power.

Based on current capacity, the UK has a pretty good spread of manufacturing capabilities, from chemicals and machinery to automotive, gas turbines and aerospace, but the bulk of our goods-based growth has come from aerospace and automotive, whose capacity relies on European supply chains. Based on current Brexit negotiations, those supply chains are at risk, as well as under added pressure from the pandemic. The Government have largely relied on services-based growth in our economy, which of course is an important part of what we do as a country, but they took their eye off the ball in respect of British manufacturing, resulting in a weaker and more exposed market for goods, exports and economic growth.

That is the context for this Bill, because the questions that we are considering today have been with us in one form or another for the past four years. Most of the provisions in front of us today first came before the House a few months after I was elected in 2017. By any measure, this legislation has taken too long. The priorities ​given force in the Bill, and which even now run through all the arguments on trade made by those on the Treasury Bench, are the same arguments we have heard over the period of trading inadequacy that I have just set out. The economy is in recession and we are on the cusp of a once-in-a-century collapse in output. The key test is whether the Government are committed to bringing back British manufacturing as a core component of the British economy.

In closing, I would like to ask the Minister to answer a number of questions when summing up the debate. First, will he set out for the House whether Parliament will be given the right to full and transparent scrutiny of the trade negotiations, and confirm whether that will be by a new or existing Committee of this House? As a former member of the European Scrutiny Committee, I note that we had such a function when the European Union was negotiating trade deals, but that does not seem to be replicated in the Bill.

Secondly, local government leaders are in the process of setting out recovery plans post pandemic. What conversations is the Department having with city leaders to ensure that those leaders on the ground have input into decisions made in Whitehall?

Thirdly, Ministers have long said, whether in Brexit or trade debates, that the Government will stand by their commitment to human rights, workers’ rights and environmental protections, but this Bill does not mention climate change or workers’ rights at all. Britain has an opportunity to set the global expectation on these issues. I would like to understand why the Government have not included such provisions. There is a significant opportunity to couple climate diplomacy with export opportunities as we work to help other countries to transition to net zero. I hope the Minister will confirm that these opportunities are also being considered by the Department.

As an anti-modern slavery champion for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I have seen first hand the risks of global supply chains that do not have adequate protections and transparency built in. No work or business in the UK wants to be associated with illegal trafficking and exploitation of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet. I hope the Minister can set out how the Government intend to ensure that these protections are included in all future trade deals.