Alun Cairns on Brexit talks

Is it reasonable to go into an election - called in order to provide a mandate for Brexit negotiations - without providing voters with any details about what would happen if the talks do not go according to plan?

It is a question I asked the Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns a number of times during an interview on Wales Today in relation to trade tariffs.

The position of the UK Government is to go into the talks seeking the most open arrangement possible in order to achieve "frictionless" trade.

But what if, as the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier says, it is an illusion to think that Brexit can be achieved without any material impact on our lives?

In other words, is it inevitable that products from the UK will face tariffs when they are sold on the EU mainland?

Welsh lamb

If the Brexit talks fail then the UK would revert to World Trade Organisation tariffs of 10% for the automotive sector and potentially more than 40% for some agricultural produce.

A number of industries in Wales would be particularly vulnerable to this impact.

Every single engine made in the Ford plant in Bridgend for example is exported to final assembly plants on the EU mainland, and around 30% of Welsh lamb is exported to the EU.

Tariffs of this size would clearly make British products uncompetitive so some of that cost would have to be taken on board by the producers themselves.

Alun Cairns refused to engage with the question, other than to say they were seeking as open a trading arrangement as possible.


He, and other UK Government ministers, are clearly determined not to open the door on any speculation on what may, or may not, happen when the negotiations get underway.

In that sense, on the defining issue of the election, the Conservatives at least are making this a gut-instinct call on who you trust to lead those talks.

We did not just talk about Brexit, I also asked where he stood in relation to the public finances and cutting the deficit.

The Chancellor Philip Hammond has taken a more relaxed approach to austerity than his predecessor George Osborne.

Before calling the snap election, he was committed to balancing the books "at the earliest possible date" in the next parliament which was set to run from 2020 to 2025.

Mr Cairns continued to strike a flexible note when he told me: "Every individual family or business knows you cannot spend money you haven't got and that is why we need to continue to bring the deficit down but we will do it over a period of time that is in balance with the economic needs of the UK."

With Brexit on the horizon, it appears that the last thing the Conservatives want to do in this campaign is put themselves in a straight-jacket on deficit reduction and even tax pledges.