Lancashire’s business community should rest assured its interests are at the heart of Brexit negotiations, a minister has said.
Suella Braverman held a series of meetings at County Hall this week, delivering a message of “reassurance” on how negotiations with Brussels are progressing.
Speaking to the Lancashire Post, the MP for Fareham and minister for the Department for Exiting the European Union said the region - which saw all 14 Lancashire districts back Brexit in the 2016 referendum - has “a lot to look forward to.”
The minister’s visit coincided with confirmation that Theresa May faces a crunch Commons vote on proposed amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.
It also came days after reports claimed a “doomsday” scenario, if a deal is not reached, would see Britain hit with food, medicine and petrol shortages.
Ms Braverman said: “The message I want to bring is one of reassurance and there’s a lot to look forward to as we leave the EU.
“Reassurance because of the progress that has been made so far; significant progress on striking agreement on the implementation period and agreement relating to EU citizens. This is important progress that shouldn’t be dismissed.”
The government and counterparts from Brussels settled in March a “large part” of the agreement for the transitional period that could see a new relationship established.
The period will last from Brexit day on March 29, next year, to December 31, 2020.
The minister added: “The implementation period will provide certainty and time for businesses so they only have to make one set of changes. This is in response to the call from businesses and I’m glad the EU and the UK have shown the capacity to find common ground here.
“And on EU citizens, I’m proud of the exhaustive and robust provision that we have agreed that will safeguard the position of three million EU citizens (in the UK) and one million UK residents in the EU in relation to healthcare and benefits, that process fills me with confidence on the future.
“We’re also now looking at the future economic partnership, we’ve seen the guidelines from the EU and now the Government will be publishing our white paper very soon that will cover what we aspire to when it comes to goods and services and what we want with regards to agriculture and fishing.
“Once we start talking about that end state once again we can start talking more about the opportunities.”
In regard to two key sectors for the county; defence and tourism, the Minister said she and colleagues value the importance of BAE Systems on a national, not just local, scale. And there is optimism in securing a “mutually beneficial” system for labour mobility .
She said: “We recognise that the local aerospace industry is a high growth and high value sector and it has real expertise we want to maintain locally. It’s of huge benefit for jobs and for national growth. It shows we’re a world leader and we want our new and fruitful relationship with the EU to include aerospace and to ensure that trade is as free with as little disruption as possible to the industry.
“I think when it comes to tourism there’s a huge amount of revenue and thousands of jobs that are supported locally by tourism both in Lancashire and Cumbria and we want to ensure that that’s not impeded by Brexit.
“We want to ensure that as part of our future economic partnership we agree a labour mobility or migration visitor section. That has two aspects; whether its people who want to come here for work, we can make it as barrier free as possible but also for people who want to visit for tourism.
"I can’t see that there will be much difficulty in establishing a mutually beneficial system to help citizens from the EU and the UK to keep travelling swiftly across our borders for tourism.”
The minister dismissed the reports of “doomsday” scenarios reported this week - that speculated about goods shortages and the collapse of the Port of Dover within weeks of a no-deal Brexit - and urged residents to “focus on facts” rather than “Project Fear.”
“Step by step we are leaving the EU and time after time the Prime Minister and government have proved (scaremongering) headlines wrong,” she said.
“The PM has managed to strike agreement on issues that previously were considered to be very difficult.
“And look at how our economy and our country has responded to the result.
“During the referendum campaign we had a lot of scaremongering in the form that we are seeing now, that there was going to be a technical recession after the referendum and we were going to have a loss of jobs and growth would be affected.
“We’ve seen the opposite, we’ve seen our economy growing and our growth forecasts upgraded, record high exports, increases in manufacturing. We’re one of the fastest growing economies in the GE7 last year and we’ve got record low unemployment. Those are facts, not necessarily making headlines, but the progress in the negotiations and those economic facts give me confidence.
“I’m very optimistic, ultimately I believe there’s mutual benefit in striking a good free trade agreement between the UK and the EU, we have a great alliance and want that to continue. Brexit doesn’t mean pulling up the drawbridge to one of our global partners, it’s about redefining our relationship with mutual benefit and respect.”