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Transition Period: Business Preparedness

Volume 685: debated on Wednesday 2 December 2020

What steps his Department is taking to help ensure that businesses in Northern Ireland are prepared for the end of the transition period. (909536)

We have published guidance throughout the year and are providing extensive support to Northern Ireland businesses. For instance, as I mentioned, we have the Trader Support Service, which is backed by £200 million of funding from the UK Government, and has been well received—it has now had over 16,000 registrations. As we approach the end of the year, we will continue to provide detailed sectoral guidance and information on Government support, and we will step that up as we approach the conclusion of the negotiations to ensure that clear, accessible messages and guidance are provided as soon as possible.

With barely 700 hours to go until the end of the transition period, it is absurd that so many issues still need to be clarified. Does the Secretary of State recognise that Northern Ireland businesses require a clear legal framework in which to operate, and as such, any changes or mitigations have to be agreed with the EU under the protocol, including potentially any grace period, and that doing the opposite places Northern Ireland businesses in a very uncertain legal position going forward and will create long-term problems for them arising from such unilateral action by the Government?

There is a range of things that businesses can be doing and should be doing now, regardless of what the outcome may be, such as signing up to the Trader Support Service. We are intensifying, and have intensified, our work with the specialist Joint Committee. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in supporting the clauses in the UK Internal Market Bill that will give businesses certainty by delivering unfettered access to the whole of the UK.

I have been contacted by a large number of my constituents who are involved in the agrifood sector and other businesses. With special reference to the packaging of products and the new labelling structure, I am ever mindful of the approach of 31 December, which has a cost factor for the labels as well. What information has been released for manufacturing companies to have certainty over their packaging?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point that underlines why we are working with him to provide as much certainty as possible. On this particular matter, I am pleased to be able to tell him that we have recently updated our guidance on labelling changes that are required at the end of the transition period. That guidance is now available on, and I will make sure that my office sends him the link so that he can send it on to any of those businesses that are inquiring already.