Angela Smith MP

Penistone & Stocksbridge

Reducing most favoured nation tariffs to Zero  

This week Parliament could have the chance to take a no deal Brexit off the table. I believe it is vital we Parliamentarians take up that opportunity if it duly arrives.

To demonstrate just how dangerous a no deal Brexit could be to the UK's prospects it is likely the Government will this week table proposals which, in the event of a no deal will mean the UK reducing tariffs on a large proportion of its imports to zero.   

The Government claims the rationale behind this dramatic move is to protect consumers from price increases.  The consequence for many manufacturers, however, would be a significant risk of cheap imports flooding the domestic market, while simultaneously their exports would see tariffs imposed, where once there were none. 

For example, in the context of a no deal exit from the EU a new 12% tariff would be in place on all tableware going into EU member states, whereas previously such exports enjoyed tariff-free status.  With the commencement of this proposed legislation, however, imports, on the other hand, from the EU would maintain a zero tariff and because of WTO rules with regards to “most favoured nation status” UK import tariffs from many other countries would also have to be reduced to zero, where once a tariff was in place. This trading environment would create a serious risk for UK manufacturers, undermining their competitiveness in global markets.   

If this proposal is allowed to go ahead it could devastate many of our manufacturing sectors and seriously damage our industrial base, jeopardising tens of thousands of jobs and fundamentally changing the British economy.    

Ours is a country which prides itself on its manufacturing traditions and which remains ambitious about maintaining and indeed extending its capabilities.  Recent years have seen an impressive expansion in partnerships between industry and academia; the very first catapult was pioneered in South Yorkshire nearly twenty years ago at the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre and today we see many such centres across the country.   

Are we really going to put all this ambition, all this investment, all this hope for the future, at risk?  Are we going to sacrifice jobs and wealth creation for the sake of an ideological belief that a no deal Brexit would be good for Britain, whereas in fact there is not a shred of evidence that this is the case?  

My constituency is home to both ceramics manufacturing and steel making.  Well over 90% of Britain’s clay pipe manufacturing capability is based in Penistone and Stocksbridge and our local steel plant makes some of the best steel in the world.  We are proud of our contribution to the country’s economy and we do not want to see these vital industrial interests damaged.  We want to look forward, not back, and we understand that a level playing field in the context of international trade is vital to the stability and growth of our industrial capacity.   

In a national context, it is worth bearing in mind that some 22,000 people are employed in the ceramics sector alone.  It is a thriving sector, having recovered from the 2008 crash and despite the challenges, it faces in relation to key costs, such as energy.  The tariff proposals, however, would represent a serious threat to the sector and put many well-paid jobs at risk.   

Worse still, the government is attempting to sneak through these major changes by classifying them as ‘secondary legislation’, which of course means that Parliamentary scrutiny of the proposals would be minimal.   

There is, however, a better way.  Why is the Prime Minister deploying precious Government resources on proposals such as this, when she knows full well that Parliament has already determined it will not support a no-deal Brexit?  Why is she deepening the unease with which British business looks to the future by engaging in a reckless game with Parliament, attempting with her no-deal preparations to blackmail MPs into backing her Withdrawal Agreement?   

The Prime Minister must remove “No Deal” from the table. She must stand up to the ideological zealots in her party before it is too late.   

Ministers need to come to the floor of the House to explain to MPs why they are attempting to forge ahead with no-deal planning, when both Parliament and the country is opposed to it and when it could so much damage to our industrial base.