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Leaving the EU: Northern Ireland Economy

Volume 616: debated on Wednesday 26 October 2016

5. What assessment he has made of the potential effect on the Northern Ireland economy of the UK leaving the EU. (906761)

Following my appointment, I established an advisory group to ensure the voice of business is heard. It is clear that our focus now needs to be on what we can achieve in terms of trade, jobs and exploiting the opportunities of the UK’s exit from the EU.

The Secretary of State referred a few minutes ago to taking a whole-country approach to the EU referendum negotiations. The Chancellor recently spoke to the British Bankers Association about the specific needs of the banking industry. If special privileges in terms of the single market are afforded to the City of London, will the Secretary of State be asking for the same privileges for Northern Ireland?

I set up the advisory group and am speaking to individual sectors within the Northern Ireland economy precisely to ensure that their voice is heard as we prepare for the negotiations ahead, and to ensure that, where there are specific issues and concerns, they are heard as part of those preparations and are reflected in the negotiations.

Does my right hon. Friend not agree that leaving the European Union will enable the Northern Ireland economy to be rebalanced in favour of the private sector rather than the public sector? [Interruption.]

Order. There are far too many noisy private conversations taking place in the Chamber. I could scarcely hear the dulcet tones of the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman), and I feel considerably disadvantaged.

My hon. Friend identifies—I think rightly—the opportunities for bringing about greater focus on enterprise in the Northern Ireland economy, where there has been significant reliance on the state to support employment. We need to work with the Executive on skills and opportunities, which is precisely what we will be doing. [Interruption.]

Order. We are discussing matters appertaining to Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland Members must be heard.

I am sure that the Secretary of State would agree that the innovation and entrepreneurial spirit of the businesses in Northern Ireland, especially the small and medium-sized enterprises, are second to none, and that whatever they face with Brexit, they are up for the challenge.

I have heard that message very clearly. There are some fantastic, innovative businesses and some great family businesses in Northern Ireland. We want to support them to take that next step, to grow their business and to look at the new opportunities for exports. I think they now have a great opportunity to do that.