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Withdrawal Agreement: Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol

Volume 676: debated on Wednesday 13 May 2020

What progress he has made on the implementation of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement. (902588)

The Joint Committee met on 30 March and the Ireland/Northern Ireland Specialised Committee met on 30 April. The protocol has of course been part of those discussions. Our intention in implementing the protocol is to protect Northern Ireland’s place in our United Kingdom and cement the huge gains that we have all seen from the peace process. We believe that it will be necessary to support business and the wider population in understanding the protocol before it comes into effect.

I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. He knows—he confirmed earlier in these exchanges—that Northern Ireland businesses will continue to have unfettered access to the rest of the United Kingdom. The Prime Minister has made a commitment that we will not check goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Can the Secretary of State set out a bit more detail for the House about the progress that has been made in implementing both those important commitments?

My right hon. Friend is right. I want to put this in the clearest possible terms: Northern Ireland businesses will have unfettered access to the market of the United Kingdom and across GB. This is something, as he rightly points out, that many of my Cabinet colleagues and I have not just commented on publicly but about which we feel strongly. We look forward to delivering on that before the end of the year —we will deliver on that promise.

I heard what the Secretary of State said about the one-way unfettered access, but in 33 weeks Northern Ireland businesses will have to comply with EU customs and regulatory rules and two VAT systems. When will the Government let those businesses know exactly what they need to do to comply with the protocol in order to keep trading?

We will ensure that businesses have plenty of time to be ready for January next year. One of the key parts of that is ensuring that we have unfettered access. We will not put borders down the Irish sea or anywhere else. Unfettered access is a hugely important part of respecting the Good Friday agreement, as well as the “New Decade, New Approach” deal. The best way for businesses to have fluidity of access to the market is to have unfettered access. That is what we are determined to deliver, and that is what we will do.