Watch Mike's interventions on the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn MP and the former First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond MP, during the debate on Europe, Human Rights and Keeping People Safe at Home and Abroad.
Intervention on Philip Hammond MP (Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)
Philip Hammond: Never mind “Project Fear”, what about project paranoia? I was not in any way referring to the exit campaigners, but simply observing that some people have suggested retrenchment. As my hon. Friend has taken me in that direction, I will answer his question. We enjoy free trade with 53 nations by virtue of free trade agreements negotiated by the European Union. Those campaigning for exit tell me that if we were to leave the EU we would rapidly negotiate new free trade agreements, with the EU itself and then with the 53 countries with which that Union has free trade agreements. Our experience in the real world is that these agreements take a lot of time to negotiate—the EU-Canada free trade agreement has been seven years in the negotiating and is still not ratified.
Another small problem that my hon. Friend should think about is that we do not actually have any trade negotiators. We would be seeking to negotiate those 53 plus one trade agreements from scratch, because for the past 40 years, for better or worse, the European Union has negotiated all our trade agreements on our behalf. We do not have civil servants experienced in this field of activity.
Mike Gapes: Has the Foreign Secretary made any assessment of how many additional members of staff would be needed by either his Department or the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to deal with this problem, or of how many years it would take to train them?
Philip Hammond: The latter point is more important than the former, if I may say so. It is not simply a question of nipping out and calling up the jobcentre to say, “Could you send us some experienced trade negotiators to hire?” We would literally be starting from scratch. I look across the Atlantic to the world’s largest economy and its trade negotiation team, under Michael Froman; that is an extremely good team, but it is very small and has struggled to carry out two trade negotiations in parallel. I am afraid that the idea that in a matter of months, or even years, we would have negotiated a massive deal with the European Union and 53 separate trade agreements with other countries around the world—before starting on the ambitious expansion programme referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron)—is, to quote the Prime Minister, “for the birds”.
Intervention on Hilary Benn MP
Mike Gapes: My right hon. Friend mentioned the free trade agreements. Is it not a fact that since the European Union signed the free trade agreement with South Korea, the UK’s trade with Korea has massively increased? We also have massive Korean investment in this country.
Hilary Benn: That is indeed the case, and it shows that we can have the best of both worlds because we are gaining from the trade deals that the European Union has negotiated at the same time as increasing our trade with other countries with which Europe does not currently have a trade deal.
Intervention on Alex Salmond MP
Alex Salmond: Yes, that is true. That referendum was launched with the yes campaign at 28% of the vote. The eventual vote for the yes campaign was 45%. The present campaign on Europe has been launched with a much tighter margin between the two sides, and if the remain campaign loses 1% a month during the campaign, the result will not be as I or the hon. Gentleman would wish.
Mike Gapes: Is it not the case that the right hon. Gentleman wants remain to lose because he could then pursue his agenda of holding another referendum on independence within two years? His party is hardly doing anything to campaign to remain in the United Kingdom and for the United Kingdom to remain in the European Union.