Today is the 21st anniversary of the Belfast agreement. Our commitment to the agreement and its successor agreements remains steadfast. It has been instrumental in bringing peace and stability to Northern Ireland and remains the bedrock of the significant progress that has been achieved since 1998.
We want and expect to leave the European Union with a negotiated agreement. However, as a responsible Government, we have been working intensively to ensure that all parts of the UK, including Northern Ireland, are as prepared as possible in the event of a no-deal exit. We have been clear that the unique social, political and economic circumstances of Northern Ireland must be protected.
May I echo the Secretary of State’s words about the Belfast agreement?
Organised crime does not stop at the border, and the European arrest warrant is a vital tool in modern policing. What discussion has the Secretary of State had with the Home Secretary to ensure that we retain this crucial means of tackling crime in all circumstances of leaving the EU?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right: the European arrest warrant is vital, and it is used in Northern Ireland perhaps more than in any other part of the United Kingdom. It is a very important tool that the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the security services need to have access to. There is, of course, a way to make sure that they have access to it, and that is to leave with a deal.
As the Secretary of State has said, the Good Friday agreement was signed 21 years ago today, and it was a landmark achievement of the Labour Government. It ensured ongoing equality between those in Northern Ireland who consider themselves British or Irish. In the event of a no-deal Brexit, those rights will need additional protection. What plans does the Secretary of State have to ensure that those vital rights are undiluted and protected for all in Northern Ireland?
The Belfast/Good Friday agreement was a landmark achievement. It took many years and many people take credit for it, and quite rightly so. We have been clear that there will be no diminution of rights when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. That is set out very clearly in the Northern Ireland protocol to the withdrawal agreement, which means, as I said earlier, that the answer is to vote for the deal.
Does my right hon. Friend agree with the Northern Ireland Department for the Economy that cutting corporation tax to the level enjoyed by businesses in the Republic of Ireland would more than compensate for any loss of attractiveness of Northern Ireland to foreign direct investors and the associated job losses?
This House gave the Northern Ireland Executive the power to cut the corporation tax rate. That is an achievement of this Government, and we believe it would help the economy of Northern Ireland. We need a functioning Executive—we will come on to that issue later—for that power to be used, and that is what we all want to happen.
Will the Secretary of State confirm that there are already differential rates of duties and VAT between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that, whether we leave with a deal or no deal, co-operation and ensuring that there is no hard border is in everyone’s interests?
I agree that it is in everyone’s interests that we co-operate with all our friends in the European Union, and in particular with Ireland. My hon. Friend is right. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom—a separate jurisdiction and a separate sovereign country—and therefore there are differences. As I have said, the best way for us to leave the European Union—the way that will protect so many of the things that have been achieved in the past 21 years—is to leave with a negotiated agreement.
Of course everybody wants to get a deal that can get through this House of Commons. I remind the Secretary of State that she, along with us and Members from her own party, voted for an amendment saying that the backstop had to be replaced with alternative arrangements. Will she confirm that she still stands by that, and will she encourage her right hon. Friend the Prime Minister to adopt that approach, which the Leader of the House referred to yesterday?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to point out that there was a majority—the only majority in this House for anything—for the Brady amendment. I was one of those who voted for it, because I want to see changes to the backstop. Of course, that is something we have achieved through the agreement that alternative arrangements could be part of the way in which the backstop is replaced. As I have said, we all want a negotiated exit that works for the whole United Kingdom, including Northern Ireland.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for confirming on the record in the House today that she agrees that changes do need to be made to the backstop—it is important to recognise that. With regard to a no-deal outcome, she will have heard the Irish Taoiseach, and indeed Michel Barnier, say that in the event of no deal there will not be any hard border on the island of Ireland and that arrangements will be made to ensure that checks and controls are made operationally away from the border. Does she understand the frustration, therefore, with people who say that, in the event of no deal, there will be no hard border, but who are insisting on a backstop, which could actually bring about the conditions that they say they want to avoid?
I understand the many frustrations that there are around this process. I voted for the withdrawal agreement—I voted for it three times. I believe that it is a fair and balanced way for the whole United Kingdom to leave the European Union in a way that respects fully the Belfast agreement and its successor agreements, and that is what I want to see us deliver.