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Leaving the EU: Economic and Social Effect

Volume 671: debated on Wednesday 5 February 2020

1. What recent assessment his Department has made of the (a) economic and (b) social effect on Northern Ireland of the UK leaving the EU. (900560)

14. What recent assessment his Department has made of the (a) economic and (b) social effect on Northern Ireland of the UK leaving the EU. (900573)

We have now left the EU with a good deal. Northern Ireland will remain part of the UK customs territory and will be able to participate in our free trade deals. The Prime Minister negotiated hard to ensure that measures are in place that reflect Northern Ireland’s unique circumstances. There will be no hard border with Ireland. At the same time, the agreement completely safeguards Northern Ireland’s integral place within the United Kingdom, and the arrangements on rights and consent within the Belfast/Good Friday agreement.

The Prime Minister got the majority he asked for to deliver the Brexit that he wanted, but is it really possible for him to deliver on his promise that there would be no forms and no checks—no barriers of any kind—not just between Great Britain and Northern Ireland but between the north of Ireland and the Republic of Ireland?

The protocol provides important protections in that respect. Of course we will be working through the Joint Committee, and through the legislation that has been promised with the “New Decade, New Approach” agreement, to deliver on those promises.

The Government’s assessment of the economic impact of the withdrawal agreement had little by way of forecasts in terms of Northern Ireland. Does the Minister agree that this shows the lack of regard that the Government have shown to Northern Ireland throughout the Brexit process?

The Government have put Northern Ireland absolutely at the centre of this process. That is reflected in the nature of the protocol that is agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement and legislated for through the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2020. But of course the end result will depend on the free trade agreement negotiated between the UK and the EU, and it is too early at this stage to speculate on the details of that. Northern Ireland does enjoy special protections in this process as a result of the protocol.

The Minister was very careful not to answer my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) as to whether there will be checks on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The First Minister is clear that there will be. The EU negotiator, Michel Barnier, is clear that there will be. Many people in industry and commerce in Northern Ireland believe that there will be. Does the Minister agree that there will be checks, or does he say that there will not be checks, on goods going from GB to Northern Ireland?

The Prime Minister has been clear. Beyond our obligations under international law, there will be no changes for movements of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. When discussing the protocol with the EU, the UK will be ambitious on how flexible we can make this system. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK’s customs territory.

The Minister is of course right that the Prime Minister has been crystal clear. The very simple question for the Minister is this: is the Prime Minister right or wrong?

One of the ways of consolidating the benefits of leaving the EU would be to make Northern Ireland the most attractive part of the UK to trade. When I was Secretary of State, we had an all-party campaign that had the support of all the business community. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of my successor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Theresa Villiers), the Executive now have the power to reduce corporation tax. Some Members of the Executive are a bit gloomy about this. What steps are the Government taking to encourage Members of the Executive to take this amazing power to match corporation tax in the Republic of Ireland?

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point—of course, he speaks with considerable experience in this area. It is right that we agreed, as part of previous agreements, that the Executive should have that power. If Ministers from the Executive wish to use it, we stand ready to engage with them, as long as they can show that the finances of the Northern Ireland Executive will be sustainable on the basis of any move in corporation tax.

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the special status that Northern Ireland has, now that we have left the European Union, means that there is a bright new future for all the people in Northern Ireland, and that that future should be embraced, not greeted with the doom and gloom from Labour?

My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. What I see when I visit businesses in Northern Ireland is a determination to deliver for the economy to make sure that people in Northern Ireland enjoy the benefits both of being part of a global and outward-looking UK and of getting the best relationship with our European neighbours. That is an endeavour on which we must all now work together.