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Leaving the EU: Withdrawal Agreement

Volume 667: debated on Wednesday 30 October 2019

6. What economic assessment he has made of the potential effect of the Government’s proposed withdrawal agreement on Northern Ireland. (900148)

12. What economic assessment he has made of the potential effect of the Government’s proposed withdrawal agreement on Northern Ireland. (900155)

In my last questions, may I thank the shadow Secretary of State for his over-generous remarks and associate myself with his kind words about my north-west London neighbour, the hon. Member for Ealing North (Stephen Pound)? I should also like to thank you, Mr Speaker, for your support over many years in the Chair.

Under the proposed agreement, all businesses will continue to trade across the north-south border without tariffs or new regulatory checks. Businesses in Northern Ireland will continue to benefit from tariff-free access to the UK’s single market while having the opportunity to benefit from any future trade deals negotiated by the UK after we leave the EU.

Has an economic assessment been prepared to illustrate how much of a competitive advantage Northern Ireland will gain from effectively remaining in the EU’s customs union and single market, compared with other businesses across the rest of the UK? If so, will the Minister publish it?

I draw the hon. Lady’s attention to the impact assessment. I do not recognise her comments about competitive advantage or disadvantage. I hope that she will recognise that the circumstances in relation to Northern Ireland are special because of the land border, and that the proposed agreement responds to those special characteristics.

The Foreign Secretary has described the deal as “cracking” for Northern Ireland. It stands to reason, then, that the deal must be less cracking for the rest of the UK. Why is Northern Ireland getting special treatment when it voted to remain, while Scotland, which also voted to remain, is having to take the bad hard Brexit that the Tories are so determined to push through?

I understand, I think, the point the hon. Gentleman makes, but I return to what I was saying. He knows that the circumstances in Northern Ireland are special in relation to our exit from the EU because of the existence of the land border and because of the importance that we all attach to the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. One of the great achievements of this new proposed withdrawal agreement is the removal of the need for a hard border.

Heysham in my constituency is the nearest mainland UK port to Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that my area could be a boomtown if we had a free port, as 10% of the north-west’s GDP comes in through our port, and it will be 20% once this withdrawal agreement has been finalised?

I congratulate my hon. Friend on his creativity in introducing that point, which I am sure will have been heard by the relevant Secretary of State. He raises an important point about the opportunity and need to talk up the UK economy and to talk up the opportunities to increase business and trade links across the UK internal market once we leave the EU.