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Customs Regulations

Volume 667: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2019

4. What steps the Government have taken to ensure that customs regulations are the same in Northern Ireland as in the rest of the UK. (900146)

The withdrawal agreement is clear that the UK Government are committed to protecting Northern Ireland’s position in the UK internal market, and we have guaranteed that Northern Irish businesses and farmers will continue to have unfettered access to the rest of the UK market. When the withdrawal agreement comes back, those clauses on unfettered access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain will be in it. Businesses in Northern Ireland will benefit from tariff-free access to the UK single market while also benefiting from future trade deals negotiated with the UK.

It is one of the defining characteristics of a nation state that goods moving into a territory are subject to regulations that are not there for goods that move within it. That is why the withdrawal agreement is a threat to the future of the Union that is the United Kingdom. It is why the former Prime Minister was absolutely right to discount completely the possibility of a customs border down the Irish sea. Why has the Conservative and Unionist party changed its mind?

As the right hon. Gentleman knows, the key priority was to maintain no hard border on the island of Ireland—the thing that has ensured peace there for the last few decades. As I said, we will deliver on the commitments in the protocol on unfettered access for NI businesses into the GB market.

If there are to be east-west arrangements, may I press my right hon. Friend to try to ensure that they are cost-neutral for Northern Irish business?

I am having proactive discussions with the Treasury, and I agree that we need to have no costs and no barriers for Northern Ireland business.

In the light of that answer, how does a Unionist Secretary of State justify export declarations on £18.5 billion-worth of trade flowing from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and what charge will be placed on that £18.5 billion-worth of trade?

Through this agreement, the United Kingdom maintains total control of how that is applied. As my hon. Friend knows, we are working day in, day out to ensure that Northern Irish businesses can send their goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain with absolutely unfettered access.

May I return to the question asked by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Shropshire (Mr Paterson)? Could we not consider the mutual recognition and mutual implementation proposals in much the same way as we administer the common travel area?

Over the coming weeks, and then when we enter the implementation period, we must do everything we can to deliver on the commitment that I have just made to unfettered access for goods travelling from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and ensure that trade can continue as it is now.