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House of Commons Hansard

Leaving the EU: Cross-border Trade

07 February 2018
Volume 635
  • 1. What recent discussions she has had with the Irish Government on cross-border trade after the UK leaves the EU. [903756]

  • 2. What recent discussions she has had with the Irish Government on cross-border trade after the UK leaves the EU. [903757]

  • I have regular conversations with the Irish Government on a range of issues. We both recognise the importance of the trade that takes place across the island of Ireland, which is worth some £4 billion to the Northern Ireland economy. Equally, though, we must not forget the importance of the GB markets to Northern Ireland, where sales are worth some £14.6 billion. We are committed to protecting both these vital markets.

  • Scottish Government analysis has shown that a no-deal scenario could cost Scotland up to 8.5% of its GDP. Government analysis suggests that Northern Ireland could be cost up to 12% of its GDP. Does she believe any analysis she has seen, and is this too high a price to pay to keep a Tory civil war from breaking out?

  • My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has dealt with the issues concerning the leaked report. It is important to state that the UK Government want to achieve a good deal for the whole United Kingdom that protects the economic integrity of the United Kingdom.

  • If this Government are so determined to take us out of the customs union and the single market, how do they see us avoiding a hard border on the island without having a hard border in the Irish sea?

  • The United Kingdom Government have been clear that we do not want to see a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. The Irish Government have said the same, as has the European Commission. I think it is clear that we will make sure there is no hard border.

  • The voice of Wales and Scotland is being heard loud and clear in the current Brexit negotiations. That of Northern Ireland most certainly is not, because of the impasse. In answer to Questions 4 and 5, the Secretary of State will no doubt say that the solution is the restoration of the Executive, but if the Executive is not restored, what will she do to make sure the voice of Northern Ireland is heard in the current negotiations in Brussels?

  • I thank my hon. Friend, the Chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. He will know that I have been working extraordinarily hard over the last few weeks on talks, and I will address those matters when I answer Questions 4, 5 and others. The important point is that for Northern Ireland’s voice to be heard in the way the Scottish and Welsh voices are heard, we need a devolved Government in Stormont. That is what we are working towards.

  • I welcome the Secretary of State to her place and the fact that she is in discussions with the Irish Government. In her discussions, has she reflected with the Irish Government on what would happen to cross-border trade if one part of these islands that was in the common travel area joined Schengen, as the Scottish National party keeps arguing for? That would see a border not just in the Irish sea but across this island.

  • We are clear that the economic and constitutional unity of the United Kingdom is fundamental to all we are doing, and we are determined to ensure that the UK single market—the most important single market to Scotland and to Northern Ireland—is retained.

  • Bearing in mind that the United Kingdom is Ireland’s largest trading partner and that 30% of all employment in Ireland is in sectors that are heavily related to UK exports, will the Secretary of State outline what discussions have taken place to ensure that this mutually beneficial partnership continues unhindered by the petty point scoring, statement making, headline grabbing whims of EU leadership?

  • The hon. Gentleman puts his point more eloquently than I could ever dream of.

  • Given that the Irish Republic would lose out most if there was not a good deal with the European Union, is the Secretary of State making it clear to all the Irish Ministers she is meeting that they have a role to play with the European Union and that they should be standing up for their country’s attitudes and making sure we get a good deal, which is to their benefit?

  • The reality is that a good deal is a win-win for everybody—not just Ireland but all the EU27 member states. Not having that is a lose-lose; nobody benefits from not having a good deal.

  • The Prime Minister has been clear that there will be no continuing customs union between the UK and the EU. Does the Secretary of State agree that that means a divergence of regulations between Ireland and Northern Ireland and that paragraph 49 of December’s agreement must be activated? In that case, will she tell us what

    “specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland”

    she is proposing?

  • The hon. Lady makes the point that there are unique circumstances in Northern Ireland—unique anywhere across the whole of Europe—and those unique circumstances have to be reflected. The UK Government’s intention is to resolve the matter of north-south trade—and east-west trade—through the overall UK-EU agreement, but we are absolutely determined to make sure that we respect the integrity of the north-south border and that we respect the agreements that were made in Belfast nearly 20 years ago.

  • May I welcome the glistening new team to the Front Bench? I am sure the whole House agrees with me in saying how pleased we are—we are absolutely delighted—that the Secretary of State’s predecessor is recovering so well from his surgery. May I particularly welcome the Parliamentary Under-Secretary? He is the eighth Minister that I have had the privilege of shadowing; I do not know whether this attrition is anything to do with my personal behaviour, but I plead not guilty.

    Now that the new team have had a chance to find their way around, particularly on the border, and they have studied the issue of the electronic border, do they believe that such a frontier is feasible or is it just a fantasy?

  • I thank the hon. Gentleman for his warm words. I too pay tribute to my predecessor, who I am pleased to say is recovering well at home. I know the whole House wishes him well, wishes him a speedy recovery and looks forward to welcoming him back to this Chamber.

    The hon. Gentleman refers to the matter of the border. We are determined that there will be no new physical infrastructure at the border, and we will maintain things such as the common travel area, which has been in existence since well before the EU.