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Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol

Volume 673: debated on Wednesday 18 March 2020

8. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the implementation of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. (901571)

9. What recent discussions he has had with the Prime Minister on the implementation of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol in the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. (901572)

We continue to consider the best way to implement the protocol, and I will be discussing that with the EU in the joint committee and specialised committees. I am in frequent contact with the Prime Minister as we prepare for these meetings.

Last month it was extensively reported that the Prime Minister had ordered his officials to “get round” the Northern Ireland protocol. I accept that his Government have said that they will comply with their obligations, and rightly so. Can the Secretary of State tell the House whether the Prime Minister said those words, or anything remotely like them?

I always find it best not to take as writ whatever rumours may be picked up in any newspaper article. What can be taken as writ is what we have said at the Dispatch Box and what we have said as a Government. There will be unfettered access between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom’s customs territory.

What discussions and consultations has the Secretary of State had with the new Northern Ireland Executive about the protocol, and what specific—I emphasise the word “specific”—input will they have on its implementation?

Obviously I talk regularly to the Northern Ireland Executive, particularly the First and Deputy First Minister. I currently speak to them several times a week on a range of issues. We have discussed the protocol, but we will also be discussing it with the European special committee. We are determined to deliver on the protocol in a manner that ensures that there is no border down the Irish sea, and that there is unfettered access for the whole United Kingdom.

I know the Secretary of State will agree that the coronavirus crisis is causing deep and genuine concern to businesses, communities and individuals across Northern Ireland. Given that burden and the current real uncertainty, does he not also agree that now is not the right time to impose new customs and trading arrangements in Northern Ireland, and that the Brexit transition phase must now be extended well beyond the end of this year?

I refer the hon. Lady to the answer that I gave a few moments ago. The British public want to see us deliver on our promises, and the Prime Minister is rightly determined to ensure that we do that. The best certainty that we can give businesses in Northern Ireland is that, as part of the United Kingdom, they will continue to have unfettered access, and to benefit from the trade deals that we seek to establish around the world.

Can the Minister further outline the plans in place to ensure that, post December 2020, the UK works and moves as one entity and that Northern Ireland is not precluded from alignment with its biggest market, mainland GB?

We are absolutely determined to make sure we deliver the protocol in a way that, as we have said, ensures we deliver on our word that Northern Ireland has unfettered access to Great Britain, is part of the United Kingdom economy, is part of the United Kingdom customs union and will benefit from our trade deals around the world.

Order. I would like just to make a very short statement.

Those watching our proceedings will have noticed that our attendance today is significantly below the normal numbers. I have discussed with the usual channels ways in which we can limit the number of people crowded together to ensure maximum safety. We are all doing our best to keep Parliament sitting and to follow Public Health England guidance.