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Being Part of the UK: Benefits

Volume 662: debated on Wednesday 3 July 2019

May I address the invitation I have just received, Mr Speaker? Of course I enjoy a sweet sherry, but I am afraid I will be on my way to Belfast by that point.

I’m sure he will.

As this Government have made clear on numerous occasions, Northern Ireland benefits hugely from being part of the Union. Our steadfast belief is that Northern Ireland’s future is best served within a strong United Kingdom. This Government will never be neutral in expressing our support for the Union.

Northern Ireland is home to beautiful scenery and stunning beaches. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Government should leave no opportunity unturned to promote tourism in Northern Ireland, especially great events such as the Open Championship, which will be held in Portrush next month for the first time in over 60 years?

I agree wholeheartedly. I had the honour of visiting Portrush and Royal Portrush last week, and saw the beaches at their best in the sunshine. Mr Speaker, you will be delighted to know that the Open starts after Wimbledon finishes, so I hope that you will be able to enjoy it.

One of the successes of the United Kingdom is in attracting foreign direct investment. Could the Secretary of State update the House on recent FDI to Northern Ireland, and the jobs that it has created?

My Staffordshire neighbour has announced that he will not be standing at the next election; I pay tribute to him for the work that he has done for the people of Stafford, and will, I know, continue to do until the next election. He is quite right to refer to foreign direct investment in Northern Ireland; it increases year on year. It increased by 25% last year, creating nearly 1,500 new jobs.

Surely one of the benefits of Northern Ireland being in the UK is that people who live in Northern Ireland enjoy the same rights as the rest of us. If the opportunity arises—say, through an amendment to legislation—to extend equal marriage to Northern Ireland, will the Secretary of State and her Government finally support it?

The hon. Gentleman knows that personally I would like to see equal marriage extended to Northern Ireland. It is a devolved matter, and it is right that politicians in Northern Ireland deal with it, but if there is a vote on that matter in this House, it will be a free vote for Members on the Conservative Benches, as has been made clear.

Would the Secretary of State, having attended Armed Forces Day events in Lisburn this year, agree with me about the importance of Northern Ireland’s contribution to the armed forces in the first and second world wars, and in subsequent conflicts? Will she lobby for us to hold the national Armed Forces Day events in Northern Ireland?

That sounds like a very good idea. I very much enjoyed my visit to Lisburn for Armed Forces Day. As the hon. Gentleman will know, because we had a discussion on the day, I then went with my family to visit the Somme Museum, and of course I was in Belfast on Monday for the commemoration of the Somme, as were many of his hon. and right hon. Friends. The contribution that the armed forces have made is very significant, and does need to be marked in Northern Ireland.

In assessing the benefit of Northern Ireland being in the United Kingdom, can the Secretary of State advise the House of the participative role it has played in the review ordered by the Prime Minister of the rights of those in Northern Ireland, based on their rights as European citizens who identify as Irish? If Northern Ireland has not participated, why not?

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that the Northern Ireland Office has very much participated in this, and we are determined to find a way that we can resolve this, in a way that is sensitive to the rights of the people of Northern Ireland.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s claim that this Government are no longer neutral on Northern Ireland, which sets aside what was previously said about “no selfish, strategic… interest” in Northern Ireland. Will she put together promotional literature, and a promotional programme, that expresses the economic, social and cultural benefits of the Union that can be promoted not only in Northern Ireland but around the world?

I just point out to the hon. Gentleman that I am a member of the Conservative and Unionist party; I have never been neutral in my support for the Union.