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East-West Business Council

Volume 746: debated on Wednesday 28 February 2024

The Government are working to establish an east-west business council, as set out in the Command Paper, fulfilling our pledge to establish a unique forum—for key representatives across the United Kingdom from Government, business and the education sector—to identify opportunities for deepening connections between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK in important areas such as trade, transport, education and culture. I shall be in regular contact with other Ministers across Government to ensure the timely delivery of this commitment.

I thank the Minister for his answer. The Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence has estimated that 80% of Northern Irish freight exports to England come through Scotland, while a considerable proportion of NI trade with Britain is direct trade between the north of Ireland and Scotland. Given this, what concrete role does he see, or propose, for the Scottish Government on the new East-West Council?

Of course, the Government of Scotland have their rights and are entitled to be part of these arrangements, and we shall be respectful in engaging with the Scottish Government to ensure they play a full part, fully respecting the devolution settlement.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Northern Ireland Members of the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, including the right hon. Member for Lagan Valley (Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson), play a very important role in improving understanding between the EU and the UK about the way in which the trade and co-operation agreement should work, and in easing the way for a better relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union?

I do agree with my right hon. and learned Friend. I pay tribute to him for the leading role he plays in that forum, and I am most grateful to him. A large number of colleagues, whatever their view on exiting the European Union, have put a great deal of effort into building up the bonds of friendship that are so important as we go forward under the trade and co-operation agreement. I am most grateful to him for highlighting the important work of that forum, and I again pay tribute to him for his leading role.

The East-West Council, as proposed, is something that I am personally very enthusiastic about, because it potentially opens up a space in which Scotland and Northern Ireland can co-operate, along with other parts of the UK, on all that they have in common economically, socially and culturally, and that we will continue to have in common irrespective of whatever constitutional arrangements may be in place in future. Will the ministerial team at the Northern Ireland Office agree to meet me, so we can discuss how Scotland could play a positive role in that and to get the engagement with other parts right?

We now come to Prime Minister’s questions. We are joined in the Gallery today by Dr Andreas Norlén, the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament, and his delegation.