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Trade in the UK

Volume 722: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2022

5. What steps his Department is taking to help Northern Irish businesses trade with the rest of the UK. (902057)

The Government are committed to ensuring that businesses can trade freely throughout the United Kingdom, so our approach has two strands. Under the protocol, by the end of the year we will, I am sorry to say, have spent £340 million helping traders to process 2.3 million customs declarations through the trader support service for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That vividly illustrates the problems with the protocol, which is why we are in constructive dialogue to deliver change, as I said earlier, and why we are keeping the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill before Parliament.

Northern Ireland boasts some of the UK’s most innovative businesses. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that Northern Irish businesses are placing environmental, social and governance considerations at the heart of their operations? Does he agree that cementing Northern Ireland’s place as a global leader in ESG will stimulate regional jobs and growth and will turbocharge investment in the Province and across the UK?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that Northern Ireland boasts some of the UK’s most innovative businesses and is a fantastically attractive place to invest. An increasing number of organisations in Northern Ireland report on environmental, social and governance standards. I regularly visit businesses in Northern Ireland, as does the Secretary of State. We will continue to take an interest in their approach to ESG.

What businesses in Northern Ireland want, alongside political stability, is dual market access. As well as working to ensure that businesses have access to the rest of the UK market, will the Minister ensure that access to the European market will be preserved and that the Government will do nothing to compromise it?

We are committed to maintaining dual market access. We hope to negotiate a position with the European Union in which that is possible, while preserving the east-west strand of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement. We want to restore the constitutional status of Northern Ireland while ensuring that market access; I very much hope that we will do so by negotiation.

May I take the opportunity to associate myself and my party with the Secretary of State’s remarks about the 35th anniversary of the bombing in Enniskillen? Our thoughts are with all those who continue, to this day, to be affected by that event.

Maroš Šefčovič has said that

“if there is political will”,

issues around the Northern Ireland protocol could be resolved

“within a couple of weeks.”

Does the Secretary of State understand the political damage that has been caused by the Government’s failure to begin negotiations on the issue earlier in the year? Will he commit to doing all he can to achieve a negotiated settlement before the year is out?

I shall have to answer procedurally, but of course we understand the political implications of where we are. The most significant, if I may say so, is the collapse of the institutions because of the legitimate concerns of Unionism and of the DUP in particular. That is why the Secretary of State and I have been very clear that we recognise the legitimate interests of all parties, including the European Union and Ireland, and it is why we are resolute in the United Kingdom’s own interests. Of course if we completely conceded our interests we would achieve a deal within weeks, but the point is that this country and this Government are humble in accepting the legitimate interests of the EU and resolute in defending our own. I very much hope that we will reach a negotiated settlement.