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End of Transition Period: Ports of Entry

Volume 683: debated on Wednesday 4 November 2020

What assessment the Government have made of the preparedness of ports of entry in Northern Ireland ahead of the end of the transition period. (908110)

What assessment the Government have made of the preparedness of ports of entry in Northern Ireland ahead of the end of the transition period. (908112)

The Government continue to engage regularly with the Northern Ireland Executive as we get on with delivering the protocol and preparing for the end of the transition period. As well as working with the Executive, we are working with port authorities, district councils and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland to deliver protocol requirements at pace. We are also continuing discussions with the EU in the Joint Committee, informed by close working with the Executive, to secure a pragmatic approach to agrifood checks.

Last month, the operators of Northern Ireland’s four ports told Stormont that facilities to check goods arriving from Great Britain would not be in place by the end of transition. There were also concerns about the IT system, potential delays and the lack of clarity from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. With eight weeks to go, this is an absolute shambles. Who does the Minister hold responsible?

The work is continuing. As we have previously set out, we are expanding some existing entry points for agrifood controls in Northern Ireland, building on what already happens at ports such as Larne and Belfast to ensure that new processes are as streamlined and efficient as possible. We continue to work closely with the Executive, port authorities, district councils and other stakeholders in Northern Ireland to take this work forward at pace, but the hon. Lady will recognise that some of these issues are subject to ongoing discussions in the Joint Committee.

The Minister rightfully has a reputation as being a decent individual, but will he not now apologise to businesses that so close to the beginning of next year—so close to the new regime coming in—businesses still do not know what regime they are going to operate under? Is not an apology now absolutely necessary from this Government to businesses in Northern Ireland?

Let me first say what a pleasure it is to see the hon. Gentleman, if only on the screen, and welcome him back to the House, certainly from my perspective. In the last three months, we have published, on 7 August, operational guidance to Northern Ireland businesses covering customs, sanitary and phytosanitary measures and manufacturing goods, announced a £200 million trader support scheme service to support traders in Northern Ireland to meet the requirements of the protocol, announced over £150 million of investment in IT systems needed to operate the protocol’s requirements, and made progress on the recruitment and training of new staff to operate the protocol. However, I absolutely recognise the need to provide greater certainty, and we will continue to do that both through the business engagement group and through our work on the Joint Committee.