Our clear intention is to avoid any physical infrastructure on the land border, and we welcome the European Commission’s commitment to that as an important step forward. The success of the land border comes from the fact that it is seamless and invisible, and we are resolute in ensuring that that remains the case.
Will the Government incorporate safeguards to protect the peace process and ensure compliance with the Good Friday agreement, including through the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill?
We are resolutely committed to upholding all parts of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, and to finding a solution that works for the people of Northern Ireland and Ireland. We have had continued engagement with the Commission and have, in our judgment, made good progress in that regard. Various principles have been agreed that may well need to be incorporated in the final agreement.
To what extent does my right hon. Friend think that the European Commission has considered articles 8 and 21 of the Lisbon treaty, which require the European Union to develop a special relationship with its neighbours, and to preserve peace and prevent conflict? To what extent will that be achieved by driving a border between Northern Ireland and its biggest trading partner by far—the United Kingdom of Great Britain?
Obviously we respect the European Union’s desire to protect the legal order of the single market and the customs union, but that cannot come about at the expense of the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom. As we have said, we recognise the need for solutions that are specific to the unique circumstances of Northern Ireland, and we all have a responsibility to be thoughtful and creative, but that cannot amount to the appearance of a new border within the United Kingdom.
Has the Northern Ireland Office produced an analysis of the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, or contributed to the rumoured “58 articles”—the sectoral analyses that we know have been produced? Will the Secretary of State commit himself to publishing all such material, as his colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union have already so nobly done?[Official Report, 12 December 2017, Vol. 633, c. 2MC.]
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for highlighting the sectoral work relating to 58 areas of activity, which deals with how trade is currently conducted with the EU and what the alternatives might be. I can say that Northern Ireland has contributed to the cross-Government work at an official level, and the hon. Gentleman will be well aware of the commitments that DExEU has made in relation to the publication of that ongoing work.
Is it not the case that no one can decide what arrangements are needed on the Irish border—if, indeed, any will be needed—until such time as trade negotiations have been concluded, and is it not the case that the EU should get on with those negotiations now?
We firmly want to see progress on the second phase of the talks. I gave that message to Michel Barnier when I was in Brussels last week, and I also said that we believed significant progress had been made in relation to the first phase. We continue to focus on not only demonstrating our commitments in respect of those first three items, but getting on with the second phase, which is absolutely about the enduring relationship, and part of that is very much about solving the issues relating to Northern Ireland and Ireland, which we remain firmly committed to do.
I warmly welcome what the Secretary of State has said about there being no creation of new borders between parts of the United Kingdom. As he pointed out, it would of course be economically catastrophic and politically disastrous for Northern Ireland to be separated in any way from its biggest market, and his stance on that will have our full support.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. The solutions that we are determined to find will create no barriers, north-south or east-west, in relation to the trading and constitutional issues that he rightly highlights: that remains our firm intent. I believe that some of the commitments that the Commission has already made underline our position, but clearly we need to secure firm agreement in that regard.
In the context of the issues of the hard border, the EU and the Brexit negotiations, the Secretary of State will know that today members of Sinn Féin—instead of coming to the House; instead of taking their place in the Assembly; instead of being in the Executive—are down in Dublin pleading with their political opponents for relevance, and asking for more Dublin influence in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland. Will he take this opportunity to reiterate the clear position of the UK and Irish Governments on the Belfast agreement, namely that the strand 1 internal issues of Northern Ireland are a matter for the UK Government and this House alone?
The right hon. Gentleman firmly sets out the constitutional framework for Northern Ireland: the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, the principle of consent, and, very firmly, the three-stranded approach. To be clear, it is ultimately for the UK Government to provide certainty over the delivery of public services and those strand 1 issues in relation to Northern Ireland.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that regardless of the border that is set up, which we hope will be invisible, the security services and police services of the north and the south must work together in the closest possible way—that is part of Brexit as well?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend about the strength of co-operation between the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the Garda Siochana, and at all levels, in relation to fighting the threat from terrorism and organised crime. We must remain resolute against this severe continuing threat, and we are strengthened by that co-operation, which needs to deepen and flourish further in the years ahead.
I welcome those words from the Secretary of State. Of course, crimes of dishonesty as well as violence marked the troubles. What provisions is the Secretary of State making to secure any possible future hard border against smuggling and organised crime, and what assessment has he made of how many more Border Force officers will be needed to secure any hard border?
On the last point, we are firmly working on the basis that a hard border will not happen, and support for the common travel area and the principles that have been worked through jointly as part of negotiations underpin that. I would point to positive joint work between revenue and customs agencies in Northern Ireland and the Republic to confront organised crime and smuggling, and the way in which work with the National Crime Agency is being strengthened even further.
The Secretary of State knows perfectly well that his Cabinet colleague the Brexit Secretary is preparing for a no-deal Brexit. If we have no deal, that will inevitably mean a hard border for Northern Ireland, which would be a catastrophe for Northern Ireland. Just for once, will the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland set aside his diplomatic spiel and explain to the people of Northern Ireland how the Government will take back control of the Northern Ireland border if the UK crashes out of the EU?
It is right that we focus on getting that deal. We support the common travel area—it is equally supported by the Irish Government—and principles have already been agreed as part of the progress on the first phase of the negotiations. That is where our focus rightly remains, and I believe that doing that remains firmly achievable—it is where all our attention lies.