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UK Government Must Lay Out Trade Strategy As Brexit Threatens Already Weak Exports

12/12/2016 12:14 GMT | Updated 12/12/2016 12:15 GMT
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The Chancellor's Autumn Statement last month unmasked a series of Brexit bombshells for the Scottish and UK economies.

Higher debt, higher borrowing, higher inflation and slower economic growth. And all that without even addressing the Brexit elephant in the room - the UK's membership of the Single Market. A market to which access is key to jobs and businesses across the UK.

It has been six months of silence from the UK government on its preparations on negotiations with the EU and it appears as though the Brexit Secretary has made some progress and revealed that the UK government, after pulling us out of the Single Market, will now consider paying in to have access to the Single Market.

However, last weeks vote on the Opposition day debate on Brexit and the UK government's last minute panic plan lays bare the chaos in the Cabinet. And the fact remains, that after six months, Theresa May's revelation is far from a plan. And it is worrying and indicative of a government that the scribbled notes offered slightly more clarity than Theresa May's recent revelation of her red, white and blue Brexit plan.

Following the Autumn Statement, the OBR also reduced its trade forecast, stating starkly that this is "due to the loss of trade that the OBR judges will result from the UK leaving the EU."

With the looming threat of a hard Brexit risking huge damage to UK trade and exports, and given the Tories' abysmal record of failure on the economy, it is vital that the UK government now publishes a comprehensive strategy to boost growth.

Just as it is astonishing that the UK government still has no plan for leaving the EU 168 days after the referendum, it is also deeply concerning that Ministers have no coherent strategy to support and develop trade in light of the huge challenges of Brexit - particularly given the importance of international trade to businesses, jobs, and the prosperity of the whole country.

We all know that this government would like to have their cake and eat it, but changes to export finance alone which were announced last week will not bridge the gap between ambition and reality.

Over the past decades, our membership of the EU has supported sustained economic growth and given a range of social protections and opportunities to our citizens. In addition, being part of the world's largest single market has helped create and sustain vital trading links, which have supported significant economic advancement and underpinned cooperation on a range of international issues. Only this week the European Parliament approved a transitional trade deal with Ghana, an agreement which will be lost with the UK's EU membership.

The UK government already looks set to substantially miss its own target to double exports to £1trillion by the end of the decade - and with the value of UK exports going backwards, falling from £512 billion in 2014 to £509 billion in 2015 the need to develop and implement a strategy could not be clearer.

The Tories for months now have continued to keep Parliament and people across the UK in the dark whilst at the same time providing private briefings to car manufacturers, Czech newspapers and now foreign leaders. Why should they get special deals and a front row seat for these discussions, while businesses in my constituency are unable to plan properly for the future?

That's why I've written to the Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, raising my concerns at the absence of any coherent UK government trade strategy. And this is why the SNP will continue to push for action to boost trade and exports, and will work to prevent the UK government steamrollering over the wishes of the people of Scotland by dragging us out of the EU and the world's largest single market.

As a matter of urgency, the Department for International Trade should publish a clear, comprehensive and costed trade strategy that will allow investment to flourish, boost exports and create jobs.

Nissan knows the Tory Government's plans, Czech newspapers know, the German Chancellor knows and a Tory aide with scribbled notes on a bit of A4 knows. It is now high time for the Prime Minister and her colleagues give my constituents and the businesses I represent the same level of insight.

Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh MP is the SNP's International Trade spokesperson