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Strength of the Union

Volume 666: debated on Wednesday 23 October 2019

The Government are committed to strengthening the links between the four nations of the Union. The Prime Minister is taking personal charge, as Minister for the Union, supported by the Cabinet Office. We have boosted spending across the Union, including a further £300 million of new growth deal funding, which will open up opportunities for cities and regions across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

We are arguably the greatest Union the world has ever seen. We have done so much for mankind and democracy across the world for generations. Does my right hon. Friend agree that we would be foolish to throw away this most valuable of Unions on what I believe is a passing whim?

As ever, I agree with my hon. Friend. I am pleased to see that his powers of oration have not dimmed. Ours is the most successful political and economic Union in history, and our four nations are safer, stronger and more prosperous together. We are deeply committed to keeping our family of nations together.

In a week in which we have seen a poll indicate that more voters support independence, threatening to split the Union, can my right hon. Friend tell me what work he is doing to build on the last Administration’s work to get UK Departments engaging with, and getting more of a presence in, the devolved nations?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have introduced new measures to ensure that the Union and devolved matters are properly considered as part of the process for developing and agreeing Government policy. Lord Dunlop’s independent review of UK Government capability will report in the autumn and make recommendations on how UK Government structures can continue to strengthen the working of the Union.

This is not the time for yah-boo politics. This is a most serious question—most serious because many experts outside this House believe that we are on course for a break-up of the United Kingdom as a result of the way this Government are handling the European Union and Brexit. Is the Minister not worried about that?

I thought the hon. Gentleman would be greatly heartened by the fact that, finally, the Prime Minister has agreed a deal—one that was voted for by this House last night—that enables a smooth transition out of the European Union, which will do much to enhance our Union.

The Government’s confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP says that the Government will never be neutral in expressing support for the Union, that the DUP will support the Government in all legislation pertaining to Brexit, and that the arrangement will be reviewed after each parliamentary Session. Will the Minister update us on all three points, please?

I find the approach of the nationalist party quite extraordinary—really quite extraordinary. I voted remain. I accept the outcome of the referendum and have supported it at every stage. The hon. Gentleman’s party appears to want to do two things: to ignore two previous referendums and to have two further referendums next year, 2020. It is the last thing the people of this country want.

Does the Minister agree that to strengthen the Union, it is important to have a close dialogue with communities in Northern Ireland about how the detail of the new arrangements for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland would work, to reassure them?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and that is exactly the commitment that the Prime Minister has given.

Back in the 2014 Scottish referendum, the winning side promised that Scotland’s views would not be ignored in the Union, yet on the matter that has consumed British politics for the past four years, the opinions of the Scottish people and their elected representatives have consistently been sidelined. The Minister will know that that has driven many people to reconsider their faith in the Union. Does he have any regrets about how the Conservative party has approached this matter?

The hon. Gentleman talks about commitments, but I remember the commitment from the leader of the Scottish nationalists in Scotland, who said the referendum was a once-in-a-generation event. As for how many people voted, more people voted to leave in Scotland than voted for the Scottish National party.

Last week, the Government threw the DUP and every Unionist in Northern Ireland under a bus—presumably the bus with lies on the side about NHS funding and the EU that the Prime Minister spent so much of 2016 riding around the country in—providing the SNP with sackfuls of ammunition for its campaign promoting a referendum on independence. Why are the Government more concerned about Brexit than they are about maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom?

The Government remain committed to maintaining the unity of our United Kingdom. That is why the Prime Minister has negotiated a deal that enables Northern Ireland to leave the customs union alongside the rest of the United Kingdom and has a consent mechanism for the arrangements included in that treaty.