Skip to main content

Leaving the EU: No-Deal Preparations

Volume 655: debated on Wednesday 6 March 2019

4. What support the Government is providing to Northern Ireland for preparations for the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. (909561)

8. What support the Government is providing to Northern Ireland for preparations for the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. (909565)

Leaving with a deal on 29 March is our clear objective, and that is what we are working towards. It remains, however, the responsibility of the UK Government to continue preparations for the full range of potential outcomes, including no deal. As we do so, and as decisions are made, we will take full account of the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland.

The reality is that, two days ago, a senior official with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs told the Public Accounts Committee that even if border processes were announced today there would be

“insufficient time for traders who wish to comply to get ready.”

It was also admitted that while HMRC has been working on possible trade processes, it “cannot tell” traders. With 23 days to go to Brexit is that lack of clarity not an absolute disgrace?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman. The Government are taking appropriate and responsible measures in the event that we end up with no deal, but there is a way to avoid no deal, and that is to vote for the deal next week.

Order. Just before I call the hon. Member for Edinburgh East (Tommy Sheppard), I hope that the whole House will wish to join me in congratulating him on a very special birthday today. I cannot believe that he is the age that I have been advised he is, but I suppose all things are possible. He seems in very good nick to me.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Let me assure you that, contrary to popular belief, my political conviction has not been moderated or mellowed by the passing of the years. The latest Northern Ireland budget included £16.5 million for the Police Service of Northern Ireland to prepare for Brexit. Will the Secretary of State tell us how much of that money is being allocated to the policing of border infrastructure, either at the border itself or some distance away from it?

Mr Speaker, may I join you in wishing the hon. Gentleman a very happy birthday? I hope that he gets to enjoy it, and to enjoy some more Northern Ireland business later in the day, which he can come and join us for. He asks about spending on policing. The Government have ensured that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has the resources that it needs, but it is down to the Chief Constable to determine how that money is spent and how it is used operationally. I also remind the hon. Gentleman that we made it clear in the joint report that we were committed to no new infrastructure at the border and no related checks or controls.

Once we have left the European Union, one of the important aspects of the economic make-up of our country will be how the UK shared prosperity fund works. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that the fund will be run on a UK-wide basis, with the UK Government playing an important part on the ground in the devolved nations and regions of this country?

My hon. Friend is right to say that the UK shared prosperity fund will be an important part of our post-Brexit future. We are working as a Government to ensure that the UK fund is properly spent, and we will consult on it shortly.

The Secretary of State will have heard Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, yesterday in the Economic Affairs Committee in the other place downgrading his concerns around no deal as a result of national Government’s preparedness. Does she have the same confidence in the preparedness of the Northern Ireland civil service?

The Northern Ireland civil service is working incredibly hard on no-deal preparedness. My officials hold regular meetings with civil servants in Northern Ireland. It would be better if we had devolved government, because there would be Ministers to whom those civil servants would be accountable, but I repeat that the best way to ensure that we do not need any of this preparedness is to vote for the deal.

Yesterday’s letter from David Sterling, the head of the Northern Ireland civil service, gave the honest assessment that it was apparent that businesses in Northern Ireland were not adequately prepared for a no-deal Brexit. Who could possibly blame Northern Irish businesses for that, if the UK Government are not prepared either? Just ask the Transport Secretary. Given this stark advice, why will the Secretary of State not support the calls to take no deal off the negotiating table now?

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, for whom I have enormous respect, when he says that the Government are not prepared for no deal. We are working towards preparing for all eventual outcomes, but we want to leave the European Union with a deal. We want to ensure that we respect the result of the referendum and leave with a deal, and the best way to do that is to vote for the deal.