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EU Referendum

Volume 611: debated on Wednesday 8 June 2016

3. What discussions she has had with the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly on the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU; and if she will make a statement. (905250)

5. What discussions she has had with the parties in the Northern Ireland Assembly on the referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU; and if she will make a statement. (905252)

Ministers have regular meetings with representatives of the Northern Ireland parties to discuss a range of issues. The Government’s position is clear: we are safer, stronger and better off in a reformed European Union.

Only two countries in the EU run a trade surplus with Britain: Holland and Germany, and the rest have a deficit. If there is Brexit, the rest will vote for tariffs, which would lead to inward investment moving from Northern Ireland into southern Ireland, and it will be the same for extra opportunities and jobs. How can the Minister and indeed the Secretary of State justify supporting Brexit when it will lead to a movement of jobs to the south, along with advancing the cause of unification and the rising of sectarian tensions?

If I may correct the hon. Gentleman, I fully support remaining in the European Union, and so do the United Kingdom Government. We are acutely aware of the points he raised, as 87% of the agricultural exports of Northern Ireland go south to the Republic, and we do not want to see any trade barriers put in the way. That is why we want to remain in the European Union.

There has been a period in which both Ireland and Britain have been outside the European Union and a period in which they have both been inside it, but if we vote to leave, it will be an historically unprecedented period in which one is out and the other is in. What assessment is the Department making of the impact of that on the border between our great nations?

The Government are clear that, should the United Kingdom leave the European Union, the border between the EU and UK will be the land border in Northern Ireland. That will place us outside the customs union, which will mean delay, checks and other reforms that will hamper our ability to export to and import from the Republic of Ireland.

Does the Minister not agree that the reality is that trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will continue very much as it has for centuries—regardless of whether we are in or out of the European Union?

What my hon. Friend misses is that export into the Republic of Ireland is also a gateway into the rest of the European Union and provides access to 500 million customers for United Kingdom goods. If we leave the European Union, that will, of course, be hampered; there will be a customs union on our borders, which will mean delays and barriers to our trade.

The Secretary of State will have noticed the recent significant slowdown in foreign direct investment into Northern Ireland because of the uncertainty about the outcome of the referendum. Has the Secretary of State made any assessment of the impact of a UK exit on the future of job creation and specifically of a British exit decision that might arrest foreign direct investment and render the reduction in corporation tax as of little benefit?

It is certainly the view of the United Kingdom that if we leave the European Union, that foreign direct investment would be put under threat. It might go elsewhere in the EU rather than in the UK. We do not want to see that happen; we want to continue to remain in the EU. Luckily, I think for all of us, there is not long to go before we can cast our votes.

The EU debate has focused over the last few days on migration. Does the Minister agree that migrants have brought in great skills to Northern Ireland, and will he clarify how he sees migration working after Brexit, if we leave?

What is often missed by people who want us to leave the European Union is the fact that, owing to our United Nations obligations under the 1951 treaty, the 1967 appendix and the 1984 and 1989 convention rights, if we did leave we would have to continue to take people who come to our shores seeking asylum and refuge. We would still not be able to decide 100%. Only North Korea can do that, and I do not fancy following North Korea.

During his discussions with the Northern Ireland parties, has the Minister said whether he thinks that it would help the police if we left the European Union, given that, before the introduction of the European arrest warrant, extradition took, on average, a year rather than the 48 days that it takes now, and given that 162 criminals have been removed from Northern Ireland since 2009 through the use of the arrest warrant?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. The ability to remove people whom we do not want so that they face trial elsewhere in Europe is a very powerful tool for our forces of law and order in Northern Ireland. We have deported 190 people to face trial, including terrorists from Spain, and we have managed to bring back 34 people to face justice in the United Kingdom. That is a tool that we need: it keeps people safe in Northern Ireland and in the United Kingdom as a whole, and to turn our backs on it would be foolish.

I agree with what the Minister has said, even if his own Secretary of State does not.

Both the Chancellor and the Northern Ireland Office have spelt out the consequences for the border of leaving the EU. Moreover, I have a copy of a letter to the Newry Chamber of Commerce & Trade in which the Home Office also spells out the potential consequences for the common travel area, given that an estimated 30,000 people cross the border every day. The letter states:

“If the UK left the EU these arrangements would be put at risk.”

Does the Minster agree, and has he told the Northern Ireland parties that?

The common travel area existed before the European Union, but the hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. It is totally unclear what arrangements would exist after a Brexit. That is why the best solution is to remain in the European Union, so that we can take advantage of both the single market and the free travel of people, skills and trade that we enjoyed before membership.