UK Government Ministers have held a number of meetings with Northern Ireland’s political parties about EU exit. However, our priority remains restoring the Northern Ireland Executive, which will enable direct ministerial engagement on matters relating to the UK’s departure from the EU.
I thank the Secretary of State for his answer, but people still need food and drink. Six million cases of Baileys and other cream liqueurs are made in Ireland every year. In Northern Ireland, production crosses the border several times, as is the case for most products. What is he doing to ensure frictionless borders for our farmers and for food production, and ensure that Baileys and Guinness get here?
I note my hon. Friend’s focus on drinks and her preferred tipple. The agri-foods sector is a key component of the Northern Irish and, indeed, Irish economy. That is why we highlighted it in our position paper on standards with regard to the need for a frictionless border. We have set out those proposals, and we want that engagement with the EU.
The Brexit Secretary borrowed a phrase from the Northern Ireland peace process to describe his approach to Brexit negotiations. He called it generously constructive ambiguity, but on the issue of the Northern Irish border we do not need ambiguity. We need certainty, so will the Secretary of State provide some today. Essentially, he has three options: a hard border in Ireland; a hard border in the Irish sea; or maintaining the UK and Ireland in a customs union through political agreement. Which one does he support?
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to read our position paper, which sets out the proposals. We do not want a border emerging across the Irish sea. We do not want a hard border, which is why we have set out proposals on the movement of people and goods and, yes, proposals in relation to customs arrangements.
It is precisely because I have read the Government’s paper that I ask for clarity. It has to be made plain exactly what the Government are proposing. The Secretary of State knows that a hard border, either in Northern Ireland or in the Irish sea, would be completely damaging to the Good Friday agreement and the economy of Ireland. The only answer is to maintain a customs union, and I urge him to advocate that today.
We have been clear about the maintenance of the common travel area, and we have set out two alternatives for the operation of customs arrangements. On the question of clarity, I would encourage the hon. Gentleman to ask for clarity from the Leader of the Opposition, who has been anything but clear about whether his party supports membership of the single market or not. I encourage him to work on his own side to deliver that clarity.