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Business Promotion

Volume 648: debated on Wednesday 31 October 2018

3. What recent steps she has taken to promote Northern Ireland businesses throughout the world. (907320)

Last month, I travelled to the United States where I promoted Northern Ireland to politicians, business leaders and academia. I set out, as I regularly do, the fact that Northern Ireland is a great place to invest and do business, with much to offer, including a diverse and talented workforce.

As we leave the European Union, we clearly need to promote all parts of the United Kingdom and their fantastic trade potential. How does the Secretary of State intend to harness Northern Ireland’s potential, building on the success of the “Great” campaign, of which Northern Ireland is clearly an important part?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Great Britain and Northern Ireland truly are great, and the “Great” campaign helps to promote exporters from across the whole UK. It is complemented by UK Export Finance, which has provided nearly £33 million of support for exporters in Northern Ireland, resulting in more than £46 million-worth of overseas sales.

For business to export and grow, it needs adequate support. What actions will the Secretary of State to take to ensure that Northern Ireland’s businesses can benefit from some of the initiatives announced this week, including in relation to the high street?

The hon. Lady is a doughty campaigner for her constituents, and I know that she cares a great deal about ensuring that Northern Ireland is an economic success. I am sure she welcomes the £2 million that has been secured for in-year spending in Belfast to deal with the regeneration following the Primark fire earlier this year. The city deals also play an incredibly important part, but I repeat that devolved government is the way to give Northern Ireland the best opportunities and success, which is why we need to see Ministers in Stormont.

As the Secretary of State champions Northern Ireland’s businesses around the world, will she remind the European Union negotiators that, in the December joint report, they signed up to Northern Ireland businesses having unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom? She should remind them of this, because they seem to have forgotten.

I regularly remind many people about this. Paragraph 49 of the protocol is one that many focus on, but paragraph 50 of the joint report is equally valid. It deals with unfettered access to the markets of Great Britain and the United Kingdom and the fact that there should be no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. These are incredibly important for ensuring the economic success of Northern Ireland.

On behalf of the Scottish National party, I should like to echo the comments made by both Front Benchers about the Greysteel massacre. Our thoughts are very much with those who were involved. Is the Secretary of State aware of recent comments made in Northern Ireland by the CBI president John Allan, when he said that business would always prefer a backstop to a no-deal Brexit? He added that the backstop could be an opportunity to open up frictionless trade between the EU and UK markets. Given that widely shared opinion, why is her supposedly pro-business Government seeking to undermine the backstop and therefore undermine business in Northern Ireland?

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the Greysteel massacre, but I have to correct him on his second point. This Government are completely committed to all the commitments that we made in the joint report before Christmas. We are looking at how to put a backstop into legal text to ensure that the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom is respected and that there is no border on the island of Ireland.