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Trade in the UK

Volume 727: debated on Wednesday 8 February 2023

1. What steps the Government are taking to help businesses in Northern Ireland trade with the rest of the UK. (903463)

The Government have committed to ensuring unfettered access for Northern Ireland businesses to the rest of the UK market. Since the advent of the Northern Ireland protocol, by the end of last year, among other support, we will have spent £340 million helping traders process 2.3 million customs declarations through the trader support service for trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. However, that only reduces the burden on NI purchasers and GB suppliers rather than removing it, which is why we are trying to deliver a sustainable solution on the protocol.

The Supreme Court website states:

“We are the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases, and for criminal cases from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Will this continue to be the case for Northern Ireland business?

I thank my hon. Friend for her question. The Supreme Court continues to be the final court of appeal for Northern Ireland. The European Court of Justice has a role in certain areas under the Northern Ireland protocol. We believe it is inappropriate for the European Court of Justice to be the final arbiter of disputes between the United Kingdom and the European Union under the protocol, and the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill would ensure that UK and Northern Ireland courts have the final say over all laws that affect citizens in those nations, should we not be able to achieve the same or a similar outcome from our negotiations with the European Union.

Trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain were not even on the horizon before Brexit and they are solely a consequence of Brexit. With 54% of people in the UK and even more in Northern Ireland now in favour of rejoining the EU, why are the UK Government refusing to consider the only option that will fully end trade barriers for Northern Ireland in the UK?

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. She should be very careful in citing polling about former referendums.

The Secretary of State listed the support that the Government are giving to Northern Ireland businesses in relation to the operation of the protocol, and mentioned many millions of pounds that are being expended for that purpose. However, does the Secretary of State not understand that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, that it should not be for this Government to have to give out millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to help businesses trade within their own country, and that what we really need is not a trader support scheme but the end of barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. I genuinely do understand the point that he makes, and I completely agree with him. We need to get to a position through negotiation, or maybe through the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill if negotiation does not work, so he knows that his constituents can receive goods east-west in the way they used to.

I thank the Secretary of State for that response. He will be aware that this morning in the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom the Court has issued a judgment in relation to the constitutional implications of the protocol. That judgment has brought great clarity to the reality that the protocol has altered Northern Ireland’s position in the United Kingdom by virtue of subjugating article 6 of the Act of Union, which gives us the right to trade freely within the United Kingdom. It also changes a key principle at the heart of the Good Friday or Belfast agreement, which is the need for cross-community consent on matters of import to the people of Northern Ireland, and the Court confirmed that that has been changed without the support or consent of the people of Northern Ireland. These are the things that need to be addressed in UK law to restore our place within the United Kingdom.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his points. Our immediate priority is preserving the political stability in Northern Ireland, and getting the Belfast/Good Friday institutions restored. The situation as it currently stands is undermining the Belfast/Good Friday agreement and power-sharing. Everybody in the Chamber and in Northern Ireland, and our interlocutors in the European Union, understand that the protocol has caused real problems. Those include trade disruption and diversion, significant costs and bureaucracy for traders, and areas where people in Northern Ireland have not been able to access the same range of goods. The right hon. Gentleman knows the arguments as well as I do. We are well aware, and he is right: things need to change.