Conservatives block my call for the County Council to ‘speak up for Devon’ in the debate over the European Single Market and Customs Union – but it will produce an impact assessment

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Union and EU flagsAs the Brexit negotiations finally entered the phase of talking about the UK’s future economic relationship with the EU, I asked the County Council this week to speak up for Devon’s interests in the debate about whether we should stay in the European Single Market and Customs Union.

However my motion that we should stay in both arrangements as we leave the EU, because of the benefits they bring to Devon’s economy and the damage which leaving them will cause, was remitted to the Cabinet who will report back to the next Council meeting in February.

I argued that the motion should have been discussed this week. Pointing out that the DUP, SNP and Mayor of London had come forward to speak for their regional interests, I criticised our MPs for failing to speak as a group for Devon and the South West’s obvious interests in keeping close economic relationships with Europe. I said the Council should speak up and make it clear to Government which kind of Brexit we wanted. All opposition councillors (Liberal Democrats, Labour, Independent and Green) supported my call to debate the motion in the meeting, but the Tory majority voted to postpone the motion for two months.

One good thing did come from the proposal – Council leader, John Hart, promised that Cabinet would look at the evidence on the impact of Brexit on Devon in coming to their recommendation for the next meeting. Although I argued that we have enough evidence to make a judgement now (see below), it will be useful for the Council to do this work. Let’s hope their ‘impact assessment’ is a bit more thorough than the Government’s!

Note. I am fully aware that the majority of voters in Seaton & Colyton, and in Devon, supported leaving the EU. This is not about that decision – it’s about getting sensible terms for the future economic links. Some points I would have made if I’d been allowed to speak fully on this:

  • By value, the SW has the highest proportion of goods exported to the EU of any UK region, rising above 60% in 2015 compared to national average of 44%. The value of SW goods exports to the EU has increased markedly in the last few years. We have actually had a positive trade balance, unlike many regions.
  • 70% of Exeter’s and 68% of Plymouth’s exports go to the EU. These are the two highest figures of any UK cities.
  • Exeter University is one of the top recipients of EU grants. While tourism to Devon has benefited from the weak pound which Brexit has caused, recent figures have shown that international students bring greater economic benefits to Exeter than tourism does.
  • While we do not have figures for the losses of EU and international staff from Devon’s NHS and care system, our officers have stated that this is a major concern.
  • Farming has a larger share in Devon than in the rest of the UK economy. Neil Parish MP says that ‘The EU is a vital market for British agriculture and food & drink exports. EU member states account for 7/8 of the UK’s top agricultural export markets. In 2015, 93% of all British beef exports went to the EU – a trade worth £320 million.’

Given all this information, it is very clear what kind of relationship with the EU is in Devon’s interests:

  • Neil believes that for agriculture, ‘it’s crucial the UK retains a close relationship with the EU market’.
  • Meurig Raymond, president of the NFU has backed a temporary customs union with the EU after Brexit.
  • Exeter University as part of the Russell Group of leading universities is lobbying to remain part of the EU Framework Programmes for research, to reassure EU staff that they have a future in the UK and to ensure new EU staff can be recruited.
  • Remaining in the Single Market is vital for selling goods and services to the EU, and to ensure we recruit and retain sufficient EU workers to support our NHS, social care, farming and hospitality sectors – new figures show that migration into the SW has fallen more sharply than in the SE.
  • The Customs Union is crucial for all our exporters, whether in manufacturing, farming or services, to avoid bureaucratic obstacles to trade which will hit small businesses hardest.
  • The Centres for Cities estimates that a ‘hard’ Brexit, leaving these arrangements, will roughly double the hit to Devon’s and Exeter’s economies compared to ‘soft’ Brexit.

There is no point in developing a SW strategy for productivity and growth, if we don’t first stop the harm that leaving the Single Market and Customs Union will cause.


4 thoughts on “Conservatives block my call for the County Council to ‘speak up for Devon’ in the debate over the European Single Market and Customs Union – but it will produce an impact assessment

    […] Devon scrutiny committee had rejected the ‘productivity strategy’ on which the devolution bid is based: see here… […]


    Alec Yates said:
    December 9, 2017 at 10:40 pm

    Martin I must disagree with this post and your wishes to stay in both the EU Single Market and Customs Union. Below is what William Dartmouth, a SW MEP, has said on the matter.

    “All the economic indicators suggest that there is a major global opportunity for the UK going forward, with manufacturing up, a highly competitive currency, record inward investment and a legal and commercial reputation which is universally trusted”, said UKIP Trade Spokesman William Dartmouth.
    “It would be crazy to become so obsessed with maintaining paper-free trade with the EU that we tie ourselves into their restrictive regulations and compliance regimes, and forfeit our competitive flexibility.”
    “All but 28 countries in the world currently manage to trade with the EU, outside the Single Market, without finding the conditions prohibitive. As our mutual dependence is great, so will be the wish to maintain a cooperative attitude in both directions. We should push on with trade talks without further delay, or if the political EU continues to insist on their ransom demand, walk away and trade on international terms until they return to the table.”

    You also state that ‘ Exeter University is one of the top recipients of EU grants.’ But this is our money anyway and free from the shackles of the EU there is no reason why this should not continue but paid by our own elected government.

    Finally look at what the man who led the Brexit Campaign and won had to say on the ‘deal’ our PM has agreed. I have known Nigel for 14 years and he is rarely wrong when he talks about major issues especially to do with the EU.


      Martin Shaw responded:
      December 10, 2017 at 9:53 am

      Alec, I think that the reason most of the Brexit leaders outside UKIP have backed Theresa May’s interim agreement is that they now realise that crashing out of the EU without a deal risks economic disaster for Britain. The bottom line is that almost half the UK’s trade in goods and services is with the European Single Market and on top of that there is trade with 52 other countries outside the EU with which Britain already benefits from trade deals through its EU membership. If we leave the Single Market (the world’s biggest free trade area which Britain helped to design) and Customs Union we will be put at a disadvantage with well over half our trade. There is no guarantee at all that other countries will enter good trade deals with the UK and they will be completely impossible to pin down within the next 15 months.

      Devon is particularly at risk for the reasons that I stated. It is possible that Exeter University will get the same funding from the UK government as it currently gets from the EU. However in the last decade British universities have got more from EU research grants than the UK has contributed, and in any case collaboration with researchers in other countries and the ability to freely recruit researchers from other countries to come to Exeter are also vital. Already Exeter is worried that existing EU staff are leaving and new ones are not coming, and outside the Single Market, with no freedom of movement, that will be more difficult.

      I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree about Nigel Farage. His friendship with the dangerous Donald Trump will not help Britain get a good trade deal with the USA. Trump’s ruthless attitude towards Bombadier in Northern Ireland has shown that he is indeed very much America First.

      On 9 December 2017 at 22:40, SEATON & COLYTON matters wrote:



    Alec Yates said:
    December 11, 2017 at 10:37 pm

    Martin, I agree with you that we will have to disagree about Nigel Farage. I would say however that he has disagreed with President Trump on his LBC radio show over a couple of issues. Yesterday he had the Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Vince Cable MP on his show and they agreed that the ‘Divorce’ bill was unacceptable. Later he had Peter Bone MP in the studio, Peter started the GO (Grassroots Out) campaign which was very effective as it was cross party. They discussed many points about the deal that Theresa May has trumpeted on her return from Brussels last week, Peter said that he believed that in the end we would would walk away without a deal, also his red line was the ‘Divorce’ bill.

    It will be interesting to see how events pan out next year.


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