5 October 2017
BPA Policy Manager Mark Simmonds attended the Conservative Party Conference this week, participating in a number of fringe events relevant to the ports and logistics industries he reports his findings in the blog below:
Away from the political plots and protests at the Conservative Party Conference there was plenty of discussion and debate for ports in Manchester this week.
On trade there was plenty of optimism from Ministers and MPs.
UK Ports Minister John Hayes declared that there is a thirst for trade with the UK from EU nations, lauding the opportunity presented by our departure. Whilst various Ministers echoed the Government’s line that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, the feeling behind the position seemed to be that, as John Hayes admitted: “a deal will need to be done”.
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox expressed similar sentiment, saying “no deal” is not necessary to make a success of Brexit, but that it would be “much better to have an agreement”. The message from industry at the conference was very clearly that a deal was essential, as was a transition period. Chancellor Phillip Hammond, widely seen as a promoter of a “soft” Brexit, explicitly called on business to back his position on transitional arrangements not just with words, but with investment.
There were mixed messages on post-Brexit regulation and trade arrangements.
Business Minister Margot James, suggested that a trade deal with the EU might need regulatory equivalence, whereas at a separate event Ports Minister John Hayes described the EU Port Services Regulation as “indicative of the EU at its worst” and said “if I were a port I wouldn’t put a lot of effort into preparing for the PSR as we intend to get rid of it”.
Whilst the two statements aren’t necessarily contradictory, it underlines the fact that arrangements for the relatively near future are still unclear and very much subject to negotiation. Whatever the situation on “day one”, there was cautious optimism – (from Ministers and MPs at least), that ports would be ready for any eventuality. Much of this optimism stems from a view that technology and innovative solutions will be found to any potential new trade barriers.
Ministers did confirm that there will be a Trade Bill introduced into Parliament by the end of the year which we will keep a close eye on.
Fishing, Environment & Infrastructure
Given the prominence of fishing in the referendum campaign and the prominence of Brexit at the Conference, it was surprising that there wasn’t more debate around what a UK fisheries policy might look like after we have left the EU.
On the fringe, there was support for supporting sustainable fishing but moving from quotas to “effort control”. There was also some support for continuance of the EMFF and concern around future skills in the catching sector.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove spoke of his desire to “develop a world-leading policy on marine conservation” and “give British fishermen first call on this resource” by only letting other countries fish on “our terms”.
Conference speeches are often long on rhetoric and short on detail, and we will likely have to wait a while longer before we find out what the Environment Secretary will do once he has fully taken back control of environmental protection regulations.
The Environment Secretary emphasised his support for the Government’s policy of leaving the Single Market, saying that outside, we can we can “restrict the live export of animals”.
There was much discussion on infrastructure but the debates tended to be dominated by big projects like HS2 and Heathrow rather than road connectivity. Similarly, transport fringes tended to be focussed on passenger journeys: busses and cycling rather than ferries and freight.
There was little in the Prime Minister’s speech on the final day directly relevant for Ports. It was a speech aimed at the Party and we did not learn much that we did not already know.
We hope that whatever happens in the Conservative Party, Ministers do not lose sight of the important business in front of them.
BPA Policy Manger - Mark Simmonds
Mark was also present at the Labour Party Conference last week and will be attending the SNP gathering in Glasgow and will be following the developments at all the party conferences this year.