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Economic Growth

Volume 746: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2024

The Government are committed to the economic growth of Northern Ireland, working closely with other UK Departments, the newly formed Executive and NI businesses. Our plan includes boosting trade and investment, building on the success of the Northern Ireland investment summit last year; levelling up Northern Ireland’s economy, including through our city and growth deals worth £617 million; and implementing the key deliverables of the “Safeguarding the Union” Command Paper. Only last night, I attended Retail NI’s supplier showcase, and I am very grateful to have made it back first thing this morning.

I thank the Minister for that very full answer. Given that the rest of the United Kingdom—the internal market—is the biggest market for Northern Ireland, what role does he see for the new InterTrade UK, particularly with respect to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right about Northern Ireland’s most important economic relationship being with Great Britain. As set out in the Command Paper, the Government are working to establish InterTrade UK, fulfilling our pledge to grow the economy by ensuring that businesses large and small can maximise the full range of east-west trading opportunities. Implementing the Windsor framework and the Command Paper are, of course, Government priorities, and I am pleased that I am responsible for them. We will update the House in greater detail at an early opportunity.

The “Safeguarding the Union” Command Paper states that

“there will be no checks when goods move within the UK internal market system save those conducted by UK authorities as part of a risk-based or intelligence-led approach”.

Regulation 13 of the Windsor Framework (Retail Movement Scheme) Regulations 2023 requires officials to check the ID numbers on the seals of all retail consignments entering Northern Ireland, and break open 5% to 10% for visual inspection. Is my right hon. Friend now able to confirm when, or if, that regulation will be removed?

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for his insightful and well-rehearsed question—well-researched question. [Laughter.] Perhaps I should not have got that early flight after all, Mr Speaker.

As we set out in the Command Paper, as we transition to the UK internal market system, we will provide clear legal direction to the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs and other UK Government authorities, through our risk management approach, to eliminate any physical checks when goods move within the UK internal market system, except those conducted by UK authorities and required as part of a risk-based or intelligence-led approach to managing the risk of criminality, abuse of the scheme, smuggling and disease risks. I recognise the importance of my hon. Friend’s question, and I will update the House on our plans in greater detail at the earliest reasonable opportunity, which I hope and intend will be before we break for the Easter recess.

It is good news that the Executive are back up and running. Will my right hon. Friend ensure that the new Executive take full advantage of all the devolved capability they have, particularly on taxation, to encourage the private sector to grow and thrive in Northern Ireland?

I will certainly give the Executive every support, while of course respecting the devolution settlement. To give my hon. Friend one example, the reason I was in Northern Ireland last night with Retail NI was to promote the Department for Business and Trade’s terrific offering in Northern Ireland, which includes a trade and investment hub that covers the UK Export Academy and the export support service. There are now 16 DBT export champions, which includes in-person support. If anyone wishes to learn greater detail, I recommend that they go to the website.

Will the Minister liaise with the relevant Departments in Northern Ireland to maximise the benefits of promoting and developing the only enterprise zone in Northern Ireland, which is in my constituency, as are excellent broadband facilities—the best in these islands? That way, we can promote our economy, bring inward investment and create prosperity.

The hon. Gentleman makes a great case for his constituency, and I would certainly like to see terrific levels of investment into it. However, I would like us to go further: I would like to see that investment zone reach right across the whole of Northern Ireland. I hope and expect that together, the UK Government and the restored Executive will make the most of that opportunity.

Why do the UK Government think it is good thing for Northern Ireland to have access to parts of the EU single market, but not for other parts of the United Kingdom to have such access, particularly those parts of the United Kingdom that voted to remain in the EU and the single market?

I am most grateful to the hon. Member for his question, but he will know two things. First, the word “access” is somewhat contested. I would encourage him to go and look at the figures for trade between the United Kingdom and the EU, and satisfy himself of the effect of our leaving the European Union. Secondly, in all seriousness, we should all reflect carefully on the status and circumstances, not only of geography but of history, of Northern Ireland. It is because of the unique status of Northern Ireland that we have been able to agree unique arrangements, and I do not imagine the European Union would have agreed those unique arrangements for any other territory.

According to a Northern Ireland Affairs Committee report, Northern Ireland received proportionately less than Scotland, Wales and England in the first round of levelling-up funding. In the latest round of funding in November, not a penny was allocated to Northern Ireland, and the Government said this was because the Executive were not sitting. Is there good news for the people of Northern Ireland today? Now that power sharing has been restored, will the Secretary of State update the House on any discussions he has had about ensuing that a fair share of levelling-up funding goes to Northern Ireland?

The hon. Lady raises a very important point, and I will be glad to continue such conversations with the Executive. As she knows, we have made available a generous package of £3.3 billion overall. We are having conversations on the detail of those areas of funding that have been repurposed, and those conversations will continue. When we can update the House in fuller detail, we will of course be glad to do so.