Skip to main content

Cost of Living

Volume 716: debated on Wednesday 22 June 2022

5. What steps the Government is taking to help reduce the cost of living in Northern Ireland. (900563)

The challenges faced by the public across the United Kingdom in terms of the cost of living are the dominant issue facing British politics. The Government are acting decisively to ensure that we provide support to the most vulnerable households. The biggest thing we could do in Northern Ireland would be to restore devolved Government, so that we have a Government who can act for the people of Northern Ireland, as the Government of the United Kingdom are acting in England, Scotland and Wales.

The Minister will be well aware that the energy price cap does not exist in Northern Ireland, leaving households vulnerable to the price hikes of up to 33% we have seen in recent months. The Treasury said in May that it was urgently working to step in to provide direct support due to the lack of an Executive. Can the Government now lay out how the £400 energy discount will be delivered in Northern Ireland?

We are very clear on this. The way that it should be delivered is through restored devolved Government in Northern Ireland, and the impediment to that, as the hon. Lady will know, is the interpretation and application of the Northern Ireland protocol. As I have said clearly to Members from the Democratic Unionist party, that is a matter for the United Kingdom to negotiate with the European Union, or we can take legislative measures in this House, as we are doing. They should be back in Government delivering for the people of Northern Ireland on the mandate delivered in May.

An Ulster Bank report last week contained the worrying result that Northern Irish firms are the least optimistic of any firms in a UK nation or region about activity in 12 months’ time. What further support can the Government offer to businesses in Northern Ireland that are struggling with this Tory cost of living crisis?

As the hon. Gentleman knows, this is an international challenge that has been exacerbated by the situation in Ukraine and Russia, and the Government are delivering decisive action and interventions to help people through this incredibly challenging situation—probably the most challenging situation that we have faced for a generation. In Northern Ireland, we have New Decade, New Approach funding, city and growth deals, the levelling-up agenda and the community shared ownership funding. We are making a plethora of interventions in Northern Ireland to make life for ordinary people better than it is already.

I have listened to one of the most able members of the Government and his thoughtful response. If the problem really is the Northern Ireland protocol, how on earth are we going to get the EU to see sense?

My hon. Friend asks some of the most devastating supplementary questions. We are very straightforward on this: we are simply saying to the European Union—I have been explaining this on behalf of the Prime Minister in the United States—that goods that are moving within the United Kingdom’s internal market and destined for sale and consumption in Northern Ireland, and that will never see dawn or dusk in the Irish Republic, pose absolutely no risk whatsoever to the integrity of the European single market. I spent time two weeks ago with Tony Blair, who has produced an amazing report that says that the European Union needs to find the room to move. Vice-President Šefčovič needs to be given a broader mandate. I say to my hon. Friend that it absolutely remains the determination of the Government to reach a conclusion on the protocol in negotiation, friendship and partnership with the European Union.

Because of the Barnett formula—something that the SNP would do away with for Scotland—our whole United Kingdom, including Scotland and Northern Ireland, will benefit from the £81 billion household support fund, including £14 million for Northern Ireland. Does my right hon. Friend agree that this will help the most vulnerable households in Northern Ireland?

Thank you, Mr Speaker. Last week, I met Jonny Petrie, chief executive of Ulster Rugby, about the club’s plans to apply for levelling-up funding to improve sporting facilities, including for community clubs across Northern Ireland, that would support the health and wellbeing of local people. Will the Government commit to considering funding development of these facilities so that Northern Ireland can attract major sporting and cultural events that would deliver much-needed tourism, jobs and money to the people of Northern Ireland?

I am delighted—[Interruption.] Thank you for that thunderous welcome back to the Dispatch Box. I am happy to say to the shadow Minister that we will absolutely do that. Only yesterday I was in Carrickfergus with the son-in-law of an hon. Gentleman on the Benches opposite seeing a new 5G pitch. We are absolutely committed to levelling up. As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has made clear, levelling up is the mission of this Government. It is not about north-south; it is about improving life opportunities in communities across the whole of the United Kingdom, especially in Northern Ireland.

That must be the loudest cheer any Minister has had—well done, Minister!

Before we come to Prime Minister’s questions, I would like to point out that British Sign Language interpretation of proceedings is available to watch on