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Links with the United States

Volume 697: debated on Wednesday 16 June 2021

The Government have always cherished our close relationship with the United States. It was a combined effort of the UK, Irish and US Governments that brought the troubles to an end, and it will take a renewed and ongoing partnership to safeguard Northern Ireland’s stability and prosperity in the future. That is why I announced earlier this month the appointment of Trevor Ringland MBE as the first special envoy to the United States on Northern Ireland. The special envoy will support our Government’s important mission to promote Northern Ireland as an excellent place to live, work and do business.

I welcome the news that my right hon. Friend has appointed a special envoy. Does he agree that it is important to engage not just with the US but with all our international friends and partners to ensure a greater understanding of the challenges that Northern Ireland faces, but also of the opportunities that this integral part of the UK has?

My hon. Friend is spot on: she is absolutely right. We in the UK are committed to working internationally to tackle global challenges, as was demonstrated by our hosting of the G7 just last weekend. As an integral part of the Union of the United Kingdom, we will always fully represent the issues that matter most to Northern Ireland when we engage with our international partners. That is the spirit in which we appointed the special envoy to the US, and I look forward to working with Trevor Ringland on that. She is also right to say that Northern Ireland is a phenomenally exciting place to live and work, with so much opportunity, in cyber, advanced engineering, technology—I could go on. It has a lot to offer the world and we will continue to promote that around the world.

May I associate myself with your comments earlier today, Mr Speaker? My thoughts are with all of Jo’s friends, family and former colleagues.

Inflaming tensions, undermining trust and a formal diplomatic rebuke—we would expect this language and action to form the backdrop to a summit with our adversaries, rather than with our closest allies. Is the Secretary of State not alarmed that our Government are increasingly isolated from our partners on the protocol? What comfort can the Secretary of State, who boasted about breaching international law, provide to the new US Administration that his word can be trusted?

Obviously, I do not recognise the context the hon. Lady outlines, but I would say to her, as I said earlier, that what colleagues and people around the world can see is that I will always be straight and give a direct and honest answer to a question, as I did last year. I work regularly with our partners in the US, and they are clear in understanding our determination to make sure we deliver on what is, to an extent, a joint endeavour between the UK and Irish Governments, with the support of the US: delivering protection of the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. We make no apologies whatsoever for putting the people of the UK and the people of Northern Ireland first in everything we do around Northern Ireland.

I congratulate the Secretary of State and wish Trevor Ringland well on his appointment as a special envoy from Northern Ireland. The Secretary of State will know that Northern Ireland has attracted significant interest internationally over the last number of decades. At pivotal moments, it has been incredibly helpful, but at other times that involvement can be naive and, worse still, partisan. In that vein, may I ask the Secretary of State what reflections he has to make on the deeply unhelpful and destabilising contribution from the Irish Tanaiste yesterday, at such a grave time of political instability in Northern Ireland?

I join the hon. Gentleman in expressing some surprise at the comments we saw yesterday. We would be concerned about any deviation from the principle of consent, as enshrined in the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, but that agreement of course also respects the right of anyone to express their views, and we fully support that. We note the recent life and times survey, which showed support for a united Ireland at a low of 30% in Northern Ireland. I am also aware of the polls that put Sinn Féin ahead in the Republic, which may explain the timing of some of these comments from the Tanaiste. I urge everyone to dial down any rhetoric, particularly at this time of year, as it is unhelpful and ill-advised. Whatever the circumstances, this Government will support the principle of consent and all of our obligations under the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.