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Leaving the EU: Northern Ireland Economy

Volume 616: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2016

8. What discussions he has had with the European Commission and Governments of other EU member states on the free movement of people, goods, capital and labour between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after the UK has left the EU. (906764)

The Government take part in regular direct discussions with the Irish Government through a number of forums, including the upcoming British-Irish Council. We will ensure that we engage closely with all relevant partners to secure the best outcome for Northern Ireland.

I welcome the Secretary of State’s earlier comments about the increase in employment, which is very important, but in light of the significant damage to the British economy, the dramatic fall in the value of sterling and the increase in the price of food and fuel as a result of the referendum, does he accept that many businesses in Northern Ireland are frightened that damage to the Northern Ireland economy will be magnified relative to the British economy?

I reiterate for the hon. Gentleman the strong base that we see, with record levels of employment, exports that have grown significantly and continuing foreign direct investment. I will continue to champion business in Northern Ireland and to underline the fact that Northern Ireland remains open for business. A number of firms are continuing to invest and create jobs, which we will continue to welcome.

Four counties in the Republic of Ireland border my constituency, so what specific issues will the Secretary of State raise with his counterparts in the Republic of Ireland to ensure that cross-border trade can continue?

I have already had two meetings—with the Taoiseach and with the Irish Foreign Minister—and there are more meetings and discussions to come. The British-Irish Council meeting is coming up in just a few weeks’ time. Border issues such as protecting the common travel area and not seeing a return to the borders of the past are a priority, and also a shared objective between the two Governments. [Interruption.]

If I may say politely to the hon. Member for East Londonderry (Mr Campbell): spit it out succinctly, man.

Thank you, Mr Speaker.

Does the Secretary of State acknowledge that over the past few months there have been reports from the retail trade in Northern Ireland of a veritable multi-million pound boom along the border in shoppers from the Irish Republic, and that we should do more to encourage that as business continues to make progress?

Yes, I have seen those reports. When I visited towns in and around the border area, they certainly underlined some of the growth in business opportunities that they were seeing—something we clearly warmly welcome.