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Internal Market: Northern Ireland and Great Britain

Volume 681: debated on Wednesday 30 September 2020

What progress his Department has made on ensuring unfettered access to the internal market for goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain after the end of the transition period. (906624)

We have committed to delivering unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the whole UK market. We continue to discuss our approach to the protocol with the European Union, and we have put in place a safety net to ensure that qualifying goods do not face exit procedures upon leaving Northern Ireland for the rest of the UK, delivering our promise of unfettered access.

I am grateful to the Secretary of State for that answer, and I welcome the UK Internal Market Bill being passed by the House, because it does indeed put in place the benefit for Northern Ireland businesses that he describes. Can he say a bit more about how businesses based in my constituency, for example, can export to Northern Ireland without restrictions and how we will ensure that businesses and constituents in Northern Ireland get unrivalled access to the whole United Kingdom market?

My right hon. Friend makes a good point. There is a difference with businesses in Great Britain trading with Northern Ireland. We are determined to give them the certainty that they want and need. That is an important part of delivering on the protocol, which says that it

“should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities”.

That means ensuring good free trade. The protocol makes it clear that there will be some changes for goods movements into Northern Ireland from Great Britain. We are consulting businesses in Northern Ireland and working with our partners in the European Union to deliver on that, and there will be a slimmed-down Finance Bill that includes all the commitments we have made to the people of Northern Ireland that are outstanding at that point.

I echo the comments made by the right hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper). Our concern is also about goods travelling from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and that includes products used in the manufacturing process for goods that are then sent back to Great Britain. Can the Secretary of State assure us that the Finance Bill will contain specific definitions in relation to goods that are not deemed at risk that are for consumption exclusively in Northern Ireland or are part of the manufacturing process in Northern Ireland?

The right hon. Gentleman makes a good point. At the heart of our approach is our determination to ensure that trade flows freely, so that businesses trading in and with Northern Ireland can continue to trade properly. We will make full use of the provisions in the protocol to deliver on that, and we will continue to discuss this with the European Union. As I say, there are still issues that we are discussing as part of the free trade agreement and through the specialist Joint Committee, but we will ensure that all the commitments made by myself, the Prime Minister and other colleagues at the Dispatch Box are delivered through a slimmed-down Finance Bill later this year.

My hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) and I have been meeting businesses in the agrifood sector, and they are particularly concerned about the definition of qualifying businesses and qualifying goods for the purposes of the movement of goods from Northern Ireland to GB and vice versa. I understand that the Government are preparing a statutory instrument on that. Can the Secretary of State update us on the progress made to bring about such a definition?

Yes. The withdrawal agreement includes provision for the Government to define the qualifying status for goods and businesses in Northern Ireland, as part of ensuring that they benefit from unfettered access. We are also engaging with businesses, as the right hon. Gentleman and his colleagues are. I have been engaging with businesses—and will do so again later today—in Northern Ireland and with the Executive to work through the means for delivering that qualifying status. There will be an ability for us to deliver that, and we will do it by secondary legislation under the withdrawal Act before the end of the year.

Just like their counterparts in Kent and Scotland, Northern Irish businesses need clarity on the looming post-Brexit reality. The Secretary of State must know that the last-minute shambles of the Internal Market Bill delivers the exact opposite and fails to provide much-needed reassurance. Does he appreciate the damage that this lack of clarity is doing to Northern Irish businesses?

Northern Ireland businesses responded very positively to the Command Paper and the guidelines we set out earlier in the summer. The UK Internal Market Bill delivers on that and on the key objective of guaranteeing unfettered access. I think it is a bit rich for the hon. Lady to talk about this. We are delivering unfettered access—something the SNP wants to block by putting another border between Scotland and the rest of the UK.