We are committed to working hard to deliver a relationship with the EU based on friendly co-operation between sovereign equals and centred on free trade. The relationship we are seeking will work for all of the UK, including Northern Ireland, and will best serve the interests of Northern Ireland businesses and consumers.
I thank the Secretary of State for that answer. Does he agree that, with business facing the hardest level of uncertainty in our lifetime because of coronavirus, it would be an enormous mistake to do as many Opposition Members are suggesting and extend the transition, the talks and all the unwanted uncertainty, delaying the start of our new relationship indefinitely?
My hon. Friend is quite right. First, extending the transition period would bind us into future EU laws, without us having any say, yet we could still have to foot the bill. Secondly, extending the transition period would simply prolong the negotiations and increase uncertainty for business. That is why we will not extend the transition period. This country needs to be able to design our own rules in our own best interests, and that is what we will do.
My hon. Friend asks an important question. Our top priority is to protect the Belfast Good Friday agreement and the gains of the peace process to preserve Northern Ireland’s place as a key part of the UK. Our approach is at all times guided by these priorities and sets out how we will meet our obligations in the protocol. The Command Paper that we published in May outlines how the protocol can be implemented in a flexible and proportionate way to protect the interests of people and businesses in Northern Ireland, as well as the whole UK, and indeed the EU. The protocol puts legal obligations on both sides and makes it clear that it is for both the UK and the EU to respect Northern Ireland’s integral place in the UK customs territory. We stand ready to work with the EU in a collaborative and constructive way to uphold the integral role that Northern Ireland has in our community and the role of the Northern Ireland Executive.
Since Patrick was a boy, trade across these islands has been critical to our economies in all parts of these islands. Trade for businesses is worth some £14 billion with Northern Ireland and £35 billion with Ireland. What guidance are the Government giving to British businesses about the different rules they have agreed with Northern Ireland and on trade with the Republic as part of the European Union?
I would just say that if the hon. Lady has a read of the Command Paper, she will see that it outlines our position on the protocol. As I said earlier, we will be publishing guidance for businesses shortly. The key issue for businesses in Northern Ireland is that they will have unfettered access to the UK as part of the UK’s internal market.