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Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol

Volume 673: debated on Wednesday 18 March 2020

3. What recent discussions he has had with representatives of the Northern Ireland business community on the Ireland/Northern Ireland protocol and future trading arrangements with the EU. (901563)

The Government are committed to engagement with the business community in Northern Ireland in relation to the protocol and our future trading arrangements with the EU. I have had the opportunity to engage with a range of business representatives in Northern Ireland in recent weeks, and I look forward to continuing positive and constructive discussions in the weeks and months ahead.

The Secretary of State says that there will be no border down the Irish sea or across the island of Ireland. The fact that the Government are intent on diverging from existing standards, however, means that checks of some sort will have to take place in Northern Ireland. What kind of checks does he think will be necessary? On the basis that there will be very real barriers to trade, will he take personal responsibility for the ensuing mess?

The hon. Gentleman should have more faith in our ability as a country to deal with technical matters. We are considering the best way to ensure that we implement the protocol, and we will discuss that with the EU in the joint committee—the specialised committee created under the withdrawal agreement, which will meet for the first time very soon. We are clear that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and we will have unfettered access.

I am sure that we all wish to give our best wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, who is making good progress following hip surgery. I hope that I will not have to deputise for him for much longer.

What discussions has the Secretary of State had with those involved in the Lough Neagh eel fishery, who face the triple challenge of an uncertain trading future with the European Union, the effect of the coronavirus on their important markets in Belgium and Holland, and the possible re-designation of the European eel under convention on international trade in endangered species regulations once we have left the European Union?

I add my good wishes to my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Simon Hoare), who is recuperating. I have been in contact with him this morning; understandably, he continues to take a keen interest in the issues of Northern Ireland.

These are unprecedented and challenging times for many sectors. The Chancellor has announced a package of support for business and indicated further measures, if required, for the coming days. I will raise the issue of the specific group mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Mr Goodwill) with the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. I assure my right hon. Friend that my hon. Friend the Minister of State has been dealing with this and met that group recently, and we will continue to take this forward.

On a recent visit to Belfast, EU officials and Michel Barnier made it quite clear to the business community that they expected a hard border in the Irish sea and, secondly, that they expected the Government to start implementing the things that need to be done to put that in place. Given that the Government have a different interpretation of the withdrawal agreement from the EU, will the Secretary of State assure us that no steps will be taken to put a physical, administrative or electronic border in the Irish sea, which would disrupt trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain?

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I am happy to be very clear about this. We are determined to deliver on the agreements not only in the protocol, but in the Good Friday/Belfast agreement, so that we ensure there is no border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and there will be no border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom. There will be no hard border in the Irish sea.