Stephen Kinnock: Thank you very much, Mr Gove, and thanks also to colleagues. The Government’s own reasonable worst-case scenario published back in September said that 40% to 70% of trucks travelling to the EU would not be ready for new border controls and that, “This could lead to…queues of up to 7,000 port bound trucks in Kent and associated…delays of up to two days.” Is that still the Government’s reasonable worst-case scenario? Will we have 7,000 trucks laid up in Kent for delays of up to two days? Has anything changed since September to change that reasonable worst-case scenario?
Michael Gove: Things have changed since September to make us more confident that that will not be the case, but a reasonable worst-case scenario is always there to help with planning. The whole point about it is that it is certainly within the bounds of possibility. It is certainly, therefore, something that a prudent Government would take into account when planning. That is why we have acquired the infrastructure that we have, but without again wanting to jinx the future, we are a little bit more optimistic that we were two or three months ago about the likelihood of avoiding the reasonable worst-case scenario.
Stephen Kinnock: Let’s assume, then, 7,000 trucks in Kent and delays of up to two days. What sort of message do you think it sends to businesses in other countries that are potentially thinking of investing in the UK that our television screens are going to be filled with queues of trucks laid up in lorry parks for two days?
Michael Gove: It is the case that we have seen disruption to traffic in Kent before, sometimes as a result of industrial action and sometimes as a result of other events. I think that businesspeople will be well used to the idea that when you have a new state of affairs there are always a couple of days, or a couple of weeks, before we reach the new normal. I think that the fundamental decisions that people will make on investment in the UK will depend on the regulatory and taxation framework, investment in infrastructure and investment in skills. My judgment is that businesspeople, while of course conscious of news and political events, make their judgments on investments on the basis of sound long-term trends.
Stephen Kinnock: Thanks very much. Just to clarify, you think that this issue with the 7,000 trucks and the one or two days will only last for a few days in January, or is it going to go well into 2021? Are we looking for this scenario to be alleviated by the summer? How long will this be going on for?
Michael Gove: Again, and it is an understandable take on things, it is not a prediction. We plan for the worst so that we can be ready to deal with it, but the projections and reasonable worst-case scenario are not the main case. They are not the base case that we expect to happen. Again, it is very difficult to make accurate predictions, as we know, when there are so many variables, but I think I have said in another forum that I would expect that we would find that, after an initial few days and weeks of potential—potential—disruption, things will resolve themselves into a new normal relatively early in the new year because, again, the risk of the disruption that you quite rightly draw attention to flows from businesses, traders and hauliers not having the necessary documentation, and we—and members of this Committee have played a part in this—have sought to make sure that traders are ready so that the risk of disruption is reduced.
Emma Churchill: With permission, may I also say that for those traders who are not ready on 1 January there will, of course, be much support from Government helplines and webinars? We will continue running those to make sure that those traders can get ready as quickly as possible, so that before they attempt to send goods across the channel they are ready. Because, of course, it is the level of trader-readiness that ultimately determines whether, and for how long, disruption might continue.
If I may say one other thing, I think that the Committee will know that we have introduced a web service called “Check an HGV is ready to cross the border”. This is mandatory for hauliers who are taking goods across the short straits to use. What they do is they use the service to certify that the correct documentation is in place, and that issues them with a Kent access permit. We had committed to sending that service live this Monday. We did that. It is operational, it is working, and indeed haulage firms are already using it to get their Kent access permits. What we hope that will do is make sure that a much higher percentage of trucks that arrive at the ports in Kent are ready and can make, therefore, a successful crossing, thereby avoiding that disruption.
Stephen Kinnock: Thanks very much. I would like to change by quite some degree now to talk about Erasmus.
Chair: It will have to be the final question, Stephen.
Stephen Kinnock: Thanks very much. I was quite surprised to hear you say, Mr Gove, at the start in response to the Chair that Erasmus is covered under these negotiations. You gave the clear impression that it is all sorted and therefore we would be able to continue to participate in a programme that I think most people feel adds a tremendous amount of value and benefit, both in terms of British students going out and learning new skills and languages, and EU students coming here and getting a great impression of our university system and of our society. It really enhances our soft power. I think most people would feel that it is a good thing. Yet Michel Barnier made it absolutely clear to MEPs on Monday that the United Kingdom will be ejected from the Erasmus programme. Can you just confirm that that is the case—that we will not be participating in Erasmus?
Michael Gove: Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. We are considering which EU programmes we should be part of in the future. When we are looking at both Erasmus and Horizon, there are different judgments about their value to the UK, but we are looking at those in the round as part of the discussions.