The Prime Minister has been very clear that our levelling-up ambitions are not about points on a compass but about people and communities throughout the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland. We are delivering for Northern Ireland through our plan for jobs, our £600 million city and growth deal programme, and through the new deal for Northern Ireland, which will fund the promotion of Northern Ireland trade and investment globally.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is absolutely the legitimate interest of the United Kingdom Government to deliver prosperity and opportunity for every part of the United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland, and we will work in partnership with others, including the Northern Ireland Executive, to do just that.
I welcome the Minister back to the Dispatch Box. Does he agree that the £400 million that we are committing to implement the Northern Ireland new deal will not only boost economic growth and competitiveness but, taken with other recent investment, represents the largest boost from a UK Government in decades?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. On top of the £400 new deal funding there is a swathe of other funding totalling just over £1 billion to small businesses and communities, delivering trader support new technology and the PEACE PLUS programme. This is the largest investment by any Government in Northern Ireland in decades, and it is warmly welcomed by businesses and communities in Northern Ireland.
The Liverpool city region and Northern Ireland broadly share the same population of just over 1.5 million. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that, just as Liverpool can benefit from all the economic benefits of a freeport zone, there is no reason why we cannot extend that across the whole of Northern Ireland—and, indeed, across the whole of north Wales—so that we are not just limited to 45 km, and the whole of the UK can benefit from this excellent economic plan?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that freeports are a vital tool in the armoury to boost prosperity, trade and investment, and to attract global investment. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I are working closely with the Executive and others to find the right freeport model that will deliver for Northern Ireland.
The primary responsibility for job creation in Northern Ireland lies with the Executive, not the UK Government, so how can the Government justify their approach to the shared prosperity fund, which takes away the spending power that the Executive previously had in relation to EU structural funds, and centralises that, stopping the Executive doing any joined-up investment in skills and job creation?
The primary responsibility for job creation is private sector business. It is entrepreneurs; it is people who create products and sell them to customers. What we are doing is making sure that businesses in Northern Ireland, as across the rest of the United Kingdom, have the tools to create the jobs and to create wealth and prosperity across the whole of Northern Ireland.
The Minister will know that sport is an economic driver. He will also know of the bid for the world rally championship to take place in Northern Ireland next year. What encouragement can the Minister and the Northern Ireland Office give to ensure that that is a successful, proactive event that will lead to spin-offs and job creation?
The hon. Gentleman is a huge champion of that project. We are well aware of the proposals that are being worked up, and I understand that the Executive and Tourism Northern Ireland are looking at them. If they come forward with proposals that work they will find a willing partner in the Northern Ireland Office. I will not commit to how many wheels or what part of the vehicles we will pay for, but we will step up to help to make this project a reality.
The director of a Northern Irish retail consortium has said that Northern Ireland has a unique opportunity to become a hub of investment, because it remains within the EU single market. To have access to the EU single market is a boon for Northern Ireland, and UK Ministers who have previously defended the protocol have stated that it is a boon. Why do the UK Government deny such a best-of-both-worlds situation for Scotland, where the people also voted to remain?
The Prime Minister, the Secretary of State, Lord Frost and others have made it clear that we need to refine how systems are working in Northern Ireland. It is not working as we want it to work. It is impeding businesses, and it is disrupting communities and trade. That is why the Government at all levels are busily engaged in finding a solution that works for Northern Ireland. I am not sure that I am going to take any lectures from the Scottish National party about holding our United Kingdom together.
I welcome my right hon. Friend and Dorset colleague the Minister of State to his place. I am sure he will agree that political stability is a key element in creating jobs and attracting investment. Will he do all he can to ensure we have a fully functioning Stormont, working hard to improve the economic situation in Northern Ireland?
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend the Chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee and that is why the Secretary of State and I were both at this Dispatch Box yesterday for Report and Third Reading of the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill, a vital tool agreed under New Decade, New Approach to provide enhanced stability to the institutions in Northern Ireland, but ultimately it is for the parties in Northern Ireland to work together to deliver for the people of Northern Ireland.