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Leaving the EU: Peace in Northern Ireland

Volume 692: debated on Wednesday 21 April 2021

In the 23 years since the Belfast/Good Friday agreement was signed, there has been a transformative change in Northern Ireland. The hard-won peace has created the conditions for economic growth, investment and stability. As we left the European Union, the protocol was designed to protect the agreement in all of its strands and to safeguard the stability created. It is only by respecting all elements of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement—north-south as well as east-west, and, obviously, Northern Ireland itself—that we will secure strength and stability into the future.

My good friend the late Charles Kennedy attended Lochaber High School and Glasgow University. He went on to represent a highlands constituency with distinction for many years. The fact that he was a Roman Catholic was neither here nor there. I would say that Charles Kennedy was an excellent example of integrated education. What more can the UK Government do to assist the Northern Ireland Assembly and Northern Ireland Government in getting integrated education going in the Province and reaping the benefits from it?

The hon. Gentleman makes a very important and powerful point, which I absolutely agree with. One of the things in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement that has not managed to be delivered on enough is integrated education. I am absolutely determined for us to do all we can to support the Executive to take that forward—obviously, education is devolved. As I have outlined in relation to the new deal package of money, it is an area that I am very focused on, and I want to work with the Executive to take integrated education forward over the period ahead for the benefit of the long-term stability, peace and prosperity of people in Northern Ireland.

Would the Secretary of State agree that it is not Brexit or leaving the EU that has had an impact on peace in Northern Ireland, but the Northern Ireland protocol that has been imposed in Northern Ireland by the EU, leaving us in a position where we have not yet got the same terms as the rest of the United Kingdom, leaving us with a trade barrier between east and west? This has meant additional bureaucracy and administration for local businesses and that there are businesses from England that do not wish to engage in the additional checks that are required. What progress is being made to remove this injustice from Northern Ireland, as we feel we are being punished for leaving the EU?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. As I said earlier, some of the tension that we have seen over the last few weeks is multi-faceted, with a number of issues involved. On the hon. Gentleman’s points about the protocol, that is something that we are working through. We are working intensively with our partners in the EU. Lord Frost is working with Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič. We are very much aware that the protocol is there. From the EU’s point of view, it wants to protect the sacrosanct position of its single market. We are focused on and determined about protecting the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, as I said before, in all three of its strands, and we are very alert to the fact that east-west is as important as any other strand. We want to make sure that we deliver on that and get a solution that means that this can work in a proper, pragmatic way that means that a consumer, a business and a citizen of Northern Ireland can have the same experience as a citizen anywhere else in the United Kingdom.